Emer­gency Pro­vi­sions Act de­bated in up­per house

The Myanmar Times - - News - SWAN YE HTUT thanhtoo@mm­times.com – Trans­la­tion by Win Thaw Tar and Thiri Min Htun

DIS­CUS­SION on abol­ish­ing the Emer­gency Pro­vi­sions Act be­gan in the up­per house yes­ter­day, as MPs mull a bill that would do away with na­tional se­cu­rity leg­is­la­tion that was widely used in the past to sti­fle po­lit­i­cal dis­sent.

The pro­posal said the 1950s law was en­acted un­der po­lit­i­cal cir­cum­stances that are not in step with present-day con­di­tions, and leaves cit­i­zens and op­po­si­tion fig­ures vul­ner­a­ble to ar­bi­trary ar­rest.

Eight law­mak­ers shared their thoughts on the pro­posal yes­ter­day, with most in agree­ment that get­ting rid of the law out­right would be ill-ad­vised.

Mil­i­tary MP Lieu­tenant Colonel Zaw Moe told me­dia out­side par­lia­ment that he was in favour of amend­ment, but cau­tioned against whole­sale re­moval, un­less a piece of leg­is­la­tion that en­sured the se­cu­rity of the state and peo­ple were to be en­acted in its stead.

This was echoed by fel­low mil­i­tary MP Bri­gadier Gen­eral Khin Maung Aye, who said any re­place­ment would need to be in keep­ing with the “aims and fea­tures” of the orig­i­nal, to be pro­mul­gated when the coun­try has achieved “to­tal peace”.

Some ques­tioned whether it was a per­ti­nent time to con­sider ma­jor changes to na­tional se­cu­rity leg­is­la­tion.

“Cur­rently, gov­ern­ments all around the world are [hav­ing to con­sider] se­cu­rity, in­clud­ing the United States and Euro­pean gov­ern­ments,” said USDP MP U Soe Thein (Kayah 9).

“There are also threats of the IS [Is­lamic State] ter­ror­ists. The cur­rent gov­ern­ment has a very heavy re­spon­si­bil­ity for [Rakhine State] se­cu­rity,” he said.

While talk of na­tional se­cu­rity dom­i­nated the dis­cus­sion, rights groups have pointed to the Emer­gency Pro­vi­sions Act as one of the key le­gal tools for stamp­ing out po­lit­i­cal op­po­si­tion.

“The dis­ad­van­tage of this act is that it can be used as a weapon to crack down and sen­tence peo­ple with se­ri­ous penal­ties [if] the coun­try falls into the dic­ta­tor’s [grip],” said NLD MP U Maung Maung Ohn (Aye­yarwady 5), echo­ing his mil­i­tary coun­ter­parts’ com­ment that he sup­ported amend­ment or re­place­ment rather than out­right abo­li­tion.

Lt Col Zaw Moe said se­vere pun­ish­ment pro­vi­sions in­clud­ing the death sen­tence ought to be amended, but noted that harsh penal­ties can also be an ef­fec­tive means of com­pelling peo­ple to com­ply with the law.

He pointed to the recent tear-gas leak dur­ing a US em­bassy se­cu­rity train­ing drill as an ex­am­ple of a case that could dam­age se­cu­rity of the state, and which the law could seek to pre­vent – but did not elab­o­rate.

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