New Anti-Terrorism Law a Threat to the Opposition?

New Anti-Terrorism Law a Threat to the Opposition?

(Irrawaddy) Burmese authorities have drafted and plan to introduce a new anti-terrorism law this year, according to a report in this month’s journal of the Myanmar Times.

Based on statements made on Dec 18 by Pol Col Sit Aye, the head of the Burmese police’s Department of Transnational Crime, the report said the Ministry of Home Affairs cooperated with several departments to implement the law.

“Action will be taken against those who offer financial or material support to terrorism. This is a very important step for the security of the people,” Sit Aye was qoted as saying.

Observers and lawyers contacted by The Irrawaddy on Wednesday are concerned the law will be used by the Burmese military government as a tool to control anti-government activities.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Wednesday, Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min, a Burmese lawyer who fled into Thailand after the Buddhist monk-led protest in Sep. 2007 said the law only seemed to benefit the government.

“If this law is promulgated, it will be used as a tool to entrench the rule of the military dictatorship,” he said.
“Causing death and injury through bombings and shootings can be called terrorism, but not providing financial and material support to opposition and political organizations striving for democratic reform through non-violent means,” he said.

It is another story if an organization or individual receives support from a group that conducts armed operations, however, said a Rangoon-based Burmese lawyer on Wednesday.

“It all depends on how the Burmese government defines terrorism,”  he said.

The lawyer also said the regime regularly denounced illegal groups and named armed groups as terrorists in its newspapers, but it has yet to officially announce terrorist groups and the anti-terrorism law.

“Perhaps the regime will officially announce the anti-terrorism law when they are ready to enforce it,” he added.
The Myanmar Times report accused armed groups such as the Karen National Union (KNU) and the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front of involvement in terrorism and that financial support and training provided by these groups are recognized as acts of terrorism.

However, some observers said the anti-terrorism law may be aimed at dissident groups or individual activists who contact opposition groups in exile. Some suggest the regime intends to use the law during the election period in 2010 to prevent any anti-government opposition including public gatherings and other forms of “social unrest.”
Zipporah Sein, general-secretary of the KNU, said the government’s anti-terrorism law intends to restrict dissident activities and prevent opposition supporters and democracy activists from participating in political activities in the run up to the election.

In Burma, any individual or organization who is contacted by or receives support from illegal groups such as dissident and armed groups can be charged under the Section 17/1 of the Illegal Organization Act. Violators can be sentenced to 3 to  5 years in prison, according to lawyers.

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