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Parliament abolishes Emergency Provisions Act

File photo of the Burmese Lower House of Parliament in Naypyidaw. (Photo: Wikicommons)

Burma has abolished one of the most authoritarian laws used by previous military regimes to silence political opponents, a lawmaker said on Tuesday.

The Emergency Provisions Act gave authorities broad powers to hold people without charge and allowed courts to convict on scanty evidence.

Military members of parliament, who fill 25 percent of seats under Burma‘s military-drafted constitution, had opposed repealing it on the grounds it was vital to national security.

A proposal to abolish the law was rejected by parliament last year, when the country was still under the quasi-civilian administration of former President Thein Sein.

The law was introduced in 1950 as newly independent Burma struggled with nascent ethnic insurgencies but was then frequently used against activists after the military seized power in a 1962 coup.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, which assumed power this year after a landslide election, has released political prisoners and prioritised doing away with oppressive legislation left over from decades of authoritarian rule.

The majority party’s lawmakers, among them many veteran activists who served time in prison, have already pushed through the repeal of a 1975 law on “subversive elements”.

Tun Tun Hein, chairman of the parliament’s bill committee, told Reuters the approval of the Union parliament — members of both houses sitting together — meant the repeal will become law within two weeks.

“This law was used by the socialist dictatorship to arrest anyone who went against them,” he said.

“Now we have abolished it because we have a people’s government,” he said.

One of the more notorious parts of the law set out sentences of up to seven years jail for “disrupt[ing] the morality or the behaviour of a group of people or the general public”.

Thein Than Oo, a lawyer and former political prisoner, said he had been imprisoned twice under the “harsh and unjust” law.

“In fact, this kind of law shouldn’t exist in a civilized society anywhere,” he said