New law brings Myanmar police under junta control

A new law enacted this month in Myanmar brings the country’s police force under the full control of the military, with expanded powers put in place to help quell resistance to junta rule, according to sources in the country.

Issued on March 25, the 18-chapter Myanmar Police Law gives Snr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of the country’s military, authority to appoint or remove the head of the police force, sources say.

Myanmar’s police force will now have to comply with all orders issued by the leaders of the coup that overthrew the democratically elected civilian government of Myanmar on Feb. 1, 2021, a police officer working in opposition to the junta told RFA.

“The new police law means that the police force is now totally under the control of the commander-in-chief,” the officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons. “Everything, starting from the appointment of a police chief to his retirement, can now be done only after obtaining consent from the military chief.

“This could even mean the police will have to take part in military operations,” the officer, a member of Myanmar’s Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) set up to resist junta rule, added.

Chapter 2 of the new law says that the police force, in addition to ensuring social stability and the rule of law, must now also participate in matters related to security and the national defense.

Kyee Myint, an attorney in Myanmar, said the country’s police force “has now been turned into an army.

“The country’s security should be taken care of by the army, and the police force should be responsible for the rule of law. But the police can’t say anymore that they work only to enforce the law,” Kyee Myint said. “The authority of the police force to uphold the rule of law will now be severely affected because of this law.”

Police officers acting under the new law are now empowered to enter homes and public buildings without a warrant, said high court lawyer Khin Maung Myint. Before, police entering a home would have a warrant and be accompanied by at least two village or ward administrators and their deputies, he added.

“But now, these requirements have been suspended. From a legal point of view, I don’t think this is a good law,” he said.

Also speaking to RFA, political analyst Ye Tun said that provisions of the law allowing for warrantless detention or arrest may be aimed at reducing attacks by resistance groups against security forces and junta supporters.

“Overall, the law appears to have been enacted for public safety, and it will empower police to be more effective in preventing the smuggling of ammunition and explosives,” he said. “But at the same time, I think it is going to make ordinary people more uneasy in their daily lives.

“If and when the situation later improves, I think the next parliament will be able to repeal the stricter provisions of the law,” he added.

Another provision of the law allows the arrest of any person for playing drums or banging pots and pans at times not permitted by the police, with observers calling the move a bid to restrict public protests like many seen last year. Violators face one to three months in prison or a fine of from 10,000 kyats (U.S. $5.62) to 50,000 kyats (U.S. $28.12), or both.

Myanmar security forces have killed a total of 1,722 civilians and arrested another 9,991 during mostly peaceful protests since the Feb. 1, 2021 military coup that overthrew civilian rule in the country, according to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma.

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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