Myanmar ditches controversial ‘midnight inspections’ law

Critics said police were still using the law to harass people. File pic
A police line blocks a student protest against military representatives in parliament who have been appointed by the military commander-in-chief and who occupy a mandatory 25 percent of parliamentary seats, in Yangon June 30, 2015. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun – RTX1IET5

Powers that enabled police in Myanmar to raid homes late at night and harass activists are to be scrapped.Under the so-called “midnight inspections” law, people were forced to report overnight guests and faced the threat of the authorities storming their properties, demanding to know who was there.

But with many former political prisoners now in parliament following elections last year that saw the first civilian government in more than 50 years elected, politicians have voted to ditch the controversial law.It comes despite opposition by the military, which still holds a quarter of seats in the legislature.

The military, which still holds a quarter of seats in parliament, opposed the move
Military members of parliament attend the Union parliament session in Naypyidaw on April 9, 2015. AFP PHOTO / SOE THAN WIN (Photo credit should read Soe Than WIN/AFP/Getty Images)

Activists said officials were still using the law to intimidate people and extort money – even after the military handed power to a semi-civilian government in 2011. There had been concerted calls for a change in the law, with campaigners branding it an “oppressive tool seriously threatening the human security and dignity of the people”. U Win Htein, aide to former dissident Aung San Suu Kyi – who now leads the country, said some parts of the law had been kept for security reasons.

Aung San Suu Kyi leads the country after landmark elections last year
Burma’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi after receiving the Freedom of the City of Dublin at a special outdoor concert. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday June 18, 2012. See PA story IRISH SuuKyi. Photo credit should read: Julien Behal/PA Wire

The ex-political prisoner, who spent years behind bars under the former military junta, said: “We scrapped that clause, but we inserted some conditions.” Police will no longer be able to force their way into homes but can “ask about the presence of strangers in an honourable way,” he said.

Visitors to a village or district will also have to register with the authorities after one month. Mr Win Htein said the army had opposed changing the law because they were “worried it would reduce their authority”.

Myanmar’s military ruled the country for decades before stepping down in 2011, paving the way for the democratic transition that saw Aung San Suu Kyi take power earlier this year. However, soldiers still run several powerful government ministries and control large parts of the economy.