Thu, Oct 06, 2016 - Page 5 News List

Myanmar scraps law used by junta to silence dissent

AFP, YANGON, Myanmar

Myanmar on Tuesday scrapped a law used by the former military government to silence political activists, which threatened jail for anyone who endangered public morality or execution for damaging telephone lines.

The Emergency Provisions Act, passed in 1950 after the then Burma won independence from Britain, became the junta’s weapon of choice to silence dissent during its half-century in power.

Lawmakers from the National League for Democracy (NLD) party, led by Nobel laureate and Burmese Minister of Foreign Affairs Aung San Suu Kyi, have been trying to repeal it since they took power in late March.

Burmese House of Nationalities Speaker Mahn Win Khaing Than on Tuesday told parliament that legislation overturning the act had been approved.

Under the repressive act, anyone committing treason could face life behind bars or even death. Hefty terms were also meted out for other crimes, such as spreading false news or disrupting public morality.

Previous attempts to eliminate or amend the act were scuppered by opposition from military lawmakers, who still control one-quarter of the seats in parliament.

Freedom has flourished in Myanmar since elections that swept the NLD to power, with hundreds of political prisoners released and several oppressive laws revoked.

Last month, parliament also scrapped part of a law used by authorities to barge into people’s houses late at night, often targeting the opposition.

However, activists say authoritarian legislation is still being used to silence criticism.

Despite sky-high hopes Aung San Suu Kyi’s government would usher in a new era of free expression, several people have been prosecuted for defamation since her party took power.

Last month, a man was jailed for nine months for calling Burmese President Htin Kyaw an “idiot” and “crazy” in online posts because of a complaint by a local NLD member.

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