Emergency Provisions Act debated in upper house
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.