Myanmar’s Parliament Considers Amending Draconian Law

A young man surfs the Web at an Internet cafe in Yangon, May 31, 2013. AFP
Myanmar’s parliament has begun discussing a proposal to amend a draconian law used by the previous military junta to jail activists, including possibly revamping provisions on offenses and penalties that could see jail terms for those found guilty slashed by about half.

Opposition New National Democracy Party lawmaker Thein Nyunt submitted the proposal to amend the 2004 Electronic Transactions Law at the lower house of parliament on Wednesday after his earlier call to abolish the law was rejected.

His new bill is believed to have the support of the powerful leader of parliament Shwe Mann amid a deluge of calls from various groups to the government of reformist President Thein Sein to make an urgent review of the law.

The Electronic Transactions Law is viewed as the most notorious and frequently used criminal law on communications in Myanmar. Under its provisions, sending a single email deemed detrimental to state security can carry a 15-year jail sentence.

“The objective of this law is good, but the section on offenses and punishments is at odds with the objective,” Thein Nyunt, who represents Yangon’s central Thingangkuun township, said on the Lower House floor.


His bill aims to cut by about half prison terms of 7 to 15 years facing Internet users at present for “any act detrimental to” state security, law and order, community peace and tranquility, national solidarity, the national economy, or national culture.

“I have proposed reducing the sentence” and that the reduced jail terms be “replaced with a fine instead,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service after a parliamentary session in Naypyidaw where he introduced the bill cutting the prison terms to between three and seven years. 

The current law was introduced in 2004 during military junta rule when many dissidents were thrown in jail under various provisions of the legislation.

Prominent Myanmar activists including comedian Zarganar, blogger Nay Phone Latt, and 88 Generation Students Group activists Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi, Htay Kyawe, and Min Zayya were sentenced under the law in 2007 and 2008.

Win Swe, an opposition Inn National Development Party lawmaker from Rakhine state’s Nyaungshwe township, spoke in support of the bill.

“This law was written to be a trap for activists who tried to oppose the military government,” Min Zayya told RFA, cautioning against half-baked changes to the law.

Any amendments of the current law should not stop short of promoting and protecting the people’s interests, he said.

“We accept the proposal to rewrite the Electronic Transactions Law, but it should be rewritten so that it contributes to the people’s interest and the development of information technology.” 

“We cannot accept amendments if they are only to help the authorities keep their seats [in parliament],” he said.

Earlier proposal rejected

Thein Nyunt proposed a bill in January for lawmakers to abolish the current law, but it was rejected by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology.

Thaung Tin, a deputy minister at the ministry, said during Wednesday’s parliamentary session that he has no objections to amending the law. 

“I have nothing with which to reject MP Thein Nyunt’s proposal to amend the law,” he said, suggesting that lawmakers consider comments from the ministry in their effort to revamp the law.

Kyi Myint, an independent lawmaker at the Lower House, told the Irrawaddy online journal that Speaker Shwe Mann supports the proposal.

Shwe Mann, who is the Speaker of the Lower House, took over last month as Union Parliament speaker, a powerful post requiring him to be overall leader of the two chambers of Myanmar’s legislature.

Another lawmaker said any amendments to the Electronic Transactions Law could not be approved until the end of the next parliamentary session, with the current session closing at the end of this month, the Irrawaddy reported.

“Parliament is ready to change the law if it is needed,” National League for Democracy lawmaker Phyo Thein Tun told RFA.

Reported by Win Naung Toe and Zin Mar Win for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.
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