In a historic moment in the South-east Asian country of Myanmar, amendments were made to the nation’s controversial Privacy Law by the Union Parliament.
The Law is called ‘Law protecting the Privacy and Security of Citizens’, and was created in 2017 to fully ensure the protection of individuals’ rights to privacy and security. The higher purpose of the Law was to allow ordinary citizens to challenge people in power over wrongdoings. It allowed common folk to file lawsuits against authorities if their rights to privacy were violated.
The controversy over the Law arises from Section 8, which deals with provisions regarding communication, telecommunications, and private correspondence. The section mentions the punishment for violating the right to privacy – six months to three years of imprisonment and fine between 300,000 MMK to 1,500,000 MMK (approximately US$200 – US$1000).
Section 8(f) of the Law deals with defamation and labels it a non-bailable offence. However, this section was widely used by people in authority to subdue criticism for the past three years. They abused the fact that the Law punished “whoever” breached its provisions. This provision was amended by Burmese lawmakers this week.
The committee replaced “whoever” with “any public official” in the Law so that prosecutions will only target authorities. Free-speech activists had long called for a review of the Law, and it came with this amendment. However, the Law reportedly did it’s damage, with more than 110 lawsuits filed by authorities against their critics in the last two years and eleven months, according to free-speech advocacy group Athan.
Committee Secretary and National League for Democracy lawmaker Dr Myat Nyana Soe spoke to local media sources and said, “We fixed it so that it is in line with its original aim.”
Activism against this Law has persisted ever since it was implemented in 2017. The amendment is a silver lining to all those who have been affected.