Bill on protecting citizens’ freedom divides upper house
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.”