MPs scrap junta-era law

Insein Prison in Yangon. Source: Wikimedia

Myanmar has scrapped a law used by its former military dictators to silence opposition. It could jail anyone who threatened “public morality” or execute citizens for damaging phone lines.

The 1950 Emergency Provisions Act has been a target for the National League for Democracy (NLD) since it took power in April. Many NLD MPs spent years in prison because of the law.

Speaker Mahn Win Khaing Than announced that the law had been overturned.

The law defined treason as someone sabotaging rail tracks or telegraph poles and could be punished with death. Spreading what the dictators decided was “false” news or disrupting public “morality” could also bring a jail term.

The NLD has limited freedom to act in the sphere of law enforcement as the military-drafted 2008 constitution orders that the Ministry of Home Affairs is controlled by the armed forces.

Hundreds of political prisoners have been freed and several dictatorial laws have been revoked since the NLD took office following its landslide victory in last November’s elections.

In September, MPs also scrapped part of a 1975 law on “subversive elements”, which enabled the police to force their way into people’s homes late at night, which was often used to target the opposition.

Tun Tun Hein, chairman of the parliamentary bill committee, was quoted saying by Reuters that the repeal would become law within two weeks.

“This law was used by the socialist dictatorship to arrest anyone who went against them,” Tun Tun Hein said. “Now we have abolished it because we have a people’s government.”

But campaigners claim oppressive laws are still being used to silence criticism of the authorities. Several people have been prosecuted for defamation since Aung San Suu Kyi’s party came to office.

Last month a man was jailed for nine months for calling President Htin Kyaw an “idiot” and “crazy” online after he was reported by an NLD member.

In August, an actor was sentenced to nearly three years for daubing insults about the military across his car and protesting on a Yangon flyover.

Elsewhere, a Nay Pyi Taw court is deciding whether it will charge the leaders of a labour protest who were arrested in May.

The protesters, who were marching on Nay Pyi Taw from their plywood factory in Sagaing Region, demanded improved labour rights, higher wages and the reappointment of colleagues who were sacked for protesting.