Myanmar scraps loathed 'midnight inspections' law

Military representatives attend the International Day of Democracy 2016 ceremony held at Parliament in Naypyitaw, on Sept 15, 2016.
Military representatives attend the International Day of Democracy 2016 ceremony held at Parliament in Naypyitaw, on Sept 15, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

YANGON (AFP) - Myanmar is scrapping part of a hated law that forced people to report overnight guests and was used by authorities to barge into houses late at night, often targeting activists.

The country's parliament, now filled with former political prisoners after landmark polls in November, voted to remove the controversial clause on Monday (Sept 19) despite opposition from the military, which still controls a quarter of seats.

Under the former junta it became known as the "midnight inspections" law because police would often turn up at people's houses unannounced, demanding to know who was staying there.

Activists said officials were still using the legislation to harass people and extort money even after the military handed power to a semi-civilian government in 2011.

More than 50 civil society groups last month called for an end to the law, which they described as an "oppressive tool seriously threatening the human security and dignity of the people".

U Win Htein, an aide to veteran activist Aung San Suu Kyi, who is now leading the country's civilian administration, said lawmakers had kept some caveats in the bill for security reasons.

"We scrapped that clause, but we inserted some conditions," said the ex-political prisoner, who spent years behind bars under the former junta.

Police are no longer authorised to intrude late at night but can "ask about the presence of strangers in an honourable way," he said.

The new form of the bill also requires guests staying in a village or ward to register with authorities after one month.

U Win Htein told AFP the army had opposed scrapping the clause 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 lifted Suu Kyi into power earlier this year.

However soldiers still run several powerful government ministries and control large parts of the economy.