Bill on pro­tect­ing cit­i­zens’ free­dom di­vides up­per house

The Myanmar Times - - News - SWAN YE HTUT swanye­htut@mm­ – Trans­la­tion by Khine Thazin Han and Win Thaw Tar

A BILL meant to pro­tect in­di­vid­ual free­dom and se­cu­rity would open the door to a flood of evils, in­clud­ing drug deal­ers, money laun­der­ers and ter­ror­ists, par­lia­ment heard yes­ter­day. It was also un­con­sti­tu­tional, said op­po­nents.

Op­po­si­tion to the Pro­tec­tion of Cit­i­zens’ Per­sonal Free­dom and Se­cu­rity bill was led by U Soe Thein (In­de­pen­dent; Kayah 9), a Pres­i­dent’s Of­fice min­is­ter un­der the pre­vi­ous govern­ment who now sits in the Amyotha Hlut­taw. He said the bill con­tra­dicted sec­tion 376 of the con­sti­tu­tion and would be null and void un­der sec­tion 446.

Sec­tion 376 states that no per­son shall be held in cus­tody for more than 24 hours with­out the re­mand of a mag­is­trate. How­ever, it also lists a num­ber of ex­cep­tions, in­clud­ing the se­cu­rity of the state, the main­te­nance of law and or­der and the pub­lic in­ter­est.

“We must learn the lessons of his­tory. Mar­tyrs, in­clud­ing the grand­fa­ther of the Speaker, Mahn Ba Khaing, were as­sas­si­nated be­cause of weak­nesses in our se­cu­rity. Now, the IS [the Is­lamic State] is tar­get­ing Myan­mar. How will our se­cu­rity or­gans pro­tect us? Our democ­racy is only five years and six months old. We should con­sider the dan­gers that might be­fall us if we put democ­racy ahead of peace and se­cu­rity,” said U Soe Thein.

An­other mem­ber of the for­mer rul­ing party, Daw Nann Ni Ni Aye (USDP; Kayin 6), said the bill would en­croach on the coun­try’s sovereignty.

In aim and word­ing, the “pro­tect­ing cit­i­zens’ per­sonal free­dom and se­cu­rity” bill ap­pears to be an at­tempt to leg­is­late ar­ti­cle 357 of the 2008 con­sti­tu­tion, which reads, “The State shall, by law, pro­tect the premises and se­cu­rity of the home, prop­erty, cor­re­spon­dence and other com­mu­ni­ca­tions of cit­i­zens sub­ject to the pro­vi­sions of this con­sti­tu­tion.”

The leg­is­la­tion re­quires that per­mis­sion from a judge be ob­tained be­fore sealed cor­re­spon­dences are opened, and any­one can file a com­plaint with po­lice if they sus­pect their phones are be­ing tapped.

Crit­ics of the bill, in­clud­ing U Soe Thein, have said it will al­low drug smug­glers, armed gangs, hu­man traf­fick­ers, ter­ror­ists and other desta­bil­is­ing el­e­ments to ben­e­fit, as the se­cu­rity or­gans de­signed to pro­tect the coun­try from them would be un­able to in­ves­ti­gate.

Others at­tacked the fea­si­bil­ity and word­ing of the draft law. Mil­i­tary MP Lieu­tenant Colonel Kyaw San Oo sug­gested amend­ing a sec­tion which re­quires pres­i­den­tial per­mis­sion in or­der to con­duct a search, in­ves­ti­ga­tion or ar­rest “that could com­pro­mise a per­son’s dig­nity”. “The in­ten­tion of this pro­vi­sion is good in that it pro­tects cit­i­zens but such per­mis­sion can take time, or even be im­pos­si­ble,” he said. “What about in emer­gency cases that are re­lated to the se­cu­rity of the coun­try?”

De­fend­ing the bill, U Htay Oo (NLD; Yan­gon 2) said the def­i­ni­tion of “per­sonal free­dom” should in­clude the free­dom to ex­press one’s thoughts and opin­ions, in ac­cor­dance with in­ter­na­tional hu­man rights stan­dards.

“It is not enough for the Min­istry of Home Af­fairs to pro­tect cit­i­zens’ free­dom and se­cu­rity. We also need the courts and par­lia­ment to do so. This bill will add the nec­es­sary pro­tec­tions,” he said, adding that the bill was in line not only with the con­sti­tu­tion but also with in­ter­na­tional hu­man rights in­stru­ments.

Its only weak point, he said, con­cerned the lack of spe­cific pro­vi­sion for prompt draft­ing of by-laws for its im­ple­men­ta­tion once it had been en­acted.

Re­but­ting ar­gu­ments that the na­tion’s se­cu­rity would be com­pro­mised by the bill, U Htay Oo told jour­nal­ists, “Sec­tion 7 of the bill al­lows an ar­rested per­son to be held for more than 24 hours if so per­mit­ted by an ex­ist­ing law. It com­plies with sec­tion 376 of the con­sti­tu­tion by stat­ing that a court can per­mit an ex­ten­sion of the de­ten­tion pe­riod.”

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