ANP pushes penalties in citizenship scrutiny process
A NATIONALIST political party yesterday raised objections over how the new government has been addressing citizenship issues in Rakhine State, citing a lack of punishments enforced against fraudulent applicants.
The Arakan National Party said the current citizenship verification scheme has largely continued on the work of the previous Union Solidarity and Development Party’s agenda, but both governments have failed to enact penalty measures for those who falsely represent their bid for citizenship.
“The current implementation of the NVC process should be re-analysed because the process is missing some regulations in accordance with the 1982 Citizenship Law, especially the penalties section. The government has never talked about this section, and has not even revealed it to the public so far,” said U Aye Maung, chair of the ANP.
According to the controversial 1982 Citizenship Law, enacted by General Ne Win’s regime, under section 18, anyone who has acquired citizenship by making a false representation or by concealment shall have his citizenship revoked, and shall also be liable to imprisonment for a term of 10 years and to a fine of K50,000.
The Rakhine State government has been conducting an ongoing citizenship verification pilot project in three Muslim majority townships. State chief minister U Nyi Pu said last week that at least 1919 cards have so far been given to Muslim residents of Myebon and Kyaukphyu townships.
The previous government revoked all temporary identity cards – known as “white cards” – held by stateless Muslims and other ethnic groups in 2015. According to government figures, there were nearly 800,000 whitecard holders in Myanmar, with over 660,000 in Rakhine State.
White cards were first issued in the early 1990s as a result of the 1982 Citizenship Law. The legislation established three categories of citizenship that excluded most self-identifying Rohingya and barred them from obtaining national registration cards, while also stipulating onerous burdens of proof.
On July 15, U Nyi Pu told staterun media that the government would continue implementing the citizenship verification scheme and would grant citizenship to eligible “certificate” holders who do not yet hold proper citizenship cards – including “associate” and “naturalised” citizens.
But some ANP members disputed how those certificates were doled out, alleging that under previous regimes, the certificates could be purchased from corrupt officials. The party called on the government to carefully scrutinise such “certificate” holders, and to punish any unsubstantiated claims.
“We cannot just say people holding certificates are citizens already under the three-tiered codification of citizenship because they may have become citizens through false representation or by corruption. Therefore, we are complaining to the government and appealing that the  law be implemented exactly,” said Daw Aye Nu Sein, a high-court lawyer and the vice chair of the ANP.
Ko Kyaw Zaw Oo, an ANP MP in the Rakhine State Hluttaw, said the government must understand that citizenship scrutiny in Rakhine State has repercussions for the whole country.
“This is a really important matter not only for us but also for the country because a small hole may sink the ship,” he said. “If the government approves citizens who are not real citizens, the country’s population might change.”
Nationalists have long fomented fears that an illegal immigration influx could destablise the country’s demographics and marginalise the Buddhist majority. Last week, the release of long-withheld religious data from the 2014 census undercut such claims and revealed the country’s religious makeup has barely shifted in the three decades since the previous census.
The Arakan National Party held a press conference yesterday calling on the government to more carefully scrutinise citizenship applications.