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Burma’s parliament agreed yesterday to discuss amendments to a pair of controversial laws widely used to suppress dissent during the former junta’s rule.
Lower House Speaker Shwe Mann confirmed that changes would be considered to the Emergency Provision Act and the colonial-era Unlawful Association Act, after a lawmaker raised the issue in parliament. Pro-democracy campaigners have said the laws have been routinely used to detain dissidents and ethnic rebels.
While it is unclear how much support there is in parliament for changing the laws, debating their future is the latest sign of the mood for reform in Burma’s fledgling democracy.
The wide-ranging association act has been used to punish dissidents communicating with exile organisations and the nation’s myriad ethnic groups ~ with both declared “unlawful” during the army’s five-decade rule.
Several rebel groups have recently signed fragile ceasefire deals with the government, prompting the lawmaker pushing the amendments to say the association law jeopardises steps towards peace.
“This act is an obstacle in the peace talk process,” Thein Nyunt, lower house lawmaker for the New National Democracy party, said during the televised session of parliament in the capital Naypyidaw.
“Many ordinary people were taken under this act for sending food, water or meeting with their relatives,” he said, adding that the law was a hangover from British colonial rule that ended more than six decades ago.
Echoing his call Nan Wah Nu, a lawmaker with the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP), which represents the ethnic minority Shan in eastern Burma, said “villagers mostly suffered” under the act rather than “insurgent groups”.
Deputy home affairs minister Kyaw Zan Myint however dampened hopes for a major shift, saying some parts of the law “are still in accord with the (ethnic unrest) situation and should not be discussed for abolition”.
President Thein Sein has overseen sweeping political changes over the past year, including the release of hundreds of political prisoners and the election of Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to parliament, and his government has been rewarded with a roll-back of international sanctions.