By Shwe Aung
Politicians in Burma are forbidden from communicating with groups deemed by the government to be ‘unlawful’, according to the country’s Union Election Commission.
Parties risk being dissolved if they refuse to abide by the new rules that effectively sever contact between MPs and exiled media and human rights groups, a directive issued on 5 April warns.
It could also cut lines of communication with the National League for Democracy (NLD), Burma’s most potent opposition force whose party status was cancelled last year after it refused to compete in the November polls. Party spokesperson Nyan Win said how that the NLD has never been declared “unlawful” by the government.
There is still however a great deal of ambiguity over who qualifies as an ‘Unlawful Association’, a charge that is used frequently by Burmese courts to jail activists, journalists and lawyers.
“There are a lot of points they didn’t make clear as to which groups are unlawful,” said Nay Myo Wei, chairman of the Peace and Diversity Party. “It will be difficult [to be clear] if the government or the UEC doesn’t specify which groups we should not be communicating with.”
The party is preparing a letter for the UEC in which it will also ascertain whether the NLD falls under this banner.
Burmese law dictates that any “combination or body of persons” deemed by the president to be “[interfering] with the administration of the law or with the maintenance of law and order”, or indeed who is “a danger to the public peace”, will serve a minimum two-year jail term.
The subsequent criteria defining these charges is vague.
But according to the leader of the National Democratic Force, Khin Maung Swe, parties had already been told not to communicate with unlawful groups – still, however, no list of those that fit the criteria has been released.
Several inside reporters for DVB have been sentenced under the Unlawful Associations Act, suggesting that links to certain exiled groups is a crime under Burmese law. State media in Burma regularly accuses groups like DVB and Radio Free Asia of “generating public outrage”.
The directive casts further doubt on assertions by the government, which was sworn in last month, that Burma is transitioning to a new era of civilian rule that it brands “disciplined democracy”.
Some observers claim however that a greater degree of transparency exists in the new parliament, although no let up in the oppressive political climate in Burma is evident.