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November 13, 2019

Essence of Section 354 of the Constitution

  • By Maung Sarga

Here, the title is in fact referred to the section 354 of the Constitution of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, 2008. The section is the well-known one. Why? In it is described that every citizen shall be at liberty in the exercise of the following rights, if not contrary to the laws, enacted for the Union security, prevalence of law and order, community peace and tranquility or public order and morality: [A] to express and publish freely their convictions and opinions; [B] to assemble peacefully without arms and holding possession; [C] to form associations and organizations; and [D] to develop their language, literature and culture they cherish, religion they profess, and customs without prejudice to the relations between one national race and another or among national races and to their faiths.
Some citizens seem to assume that they can freely enjoy these rights as much as they wish. Here is the essence of what I have assessed as to whether they are right or wrong.

Citizens’ rights
In section 21(A) of the Constitution, it is described as the basic principles of the Union that every citizen shall enjoy the right of equality, the right of liberty and the right of justice. Based upon these basic principles citizens’ rights have been prescribed as included in section 354.

Designations for exercising freely
Concerning the prescriptions of section 354 the main point we must note down is the wording “If not contrary to the laws, enacted for the Union security, prevalence of law and order, community peace and tranquility or public order and morality. It is of great importance. According to it, rights granted under sub-sections [A] [B] [C] and [D] can be enjoyed provided that anyone is not contrary to prescriptions enacted for the Nation and its national populace.
Though prescribed like this, some were found to take no notice to the prescriptions. In talking about or discussing section 354 most failed to make a hint of the introductory note on the section. Instead, they always talk about and point out freedom of speech and freedom of expression only, with the introductory note excluded. Had anyone desired to enjoy rights permitted under sub-sections [A], [B], [C] and [D] only if citizens are not contrary to the national security, rule of law, community peace and stability and the public morality and character, they can enjoy these.
Concerning sub-section D of section 354, we must note down the wording, “without prejudice to the relations between one national race and another or among national races and to their faiths.” Though concerned with all sub-sections, only if the person desirous of using this section must agree with the above-said supplementary statement the rights included in sub-section D can be enjoyed.

Legal prescriptions which are worth noticing
Penal code is the one promulgated for Myanmar and India in colonial days, but it is still valid till now. It cannot be cancelled, or amended or renewed so far. If necessary, supplementary amendments were added. As long as a law is valid, it must be followed.
In Chapter 6 of the Penal Code prescriptions are included concerning offences against the State. Chapter 7 includes offences relating to the army, navy and air forces. The Chapter 8 is prescribed for stability of the State. The said 3 chapters are prescribed for the national security, rule of law and peace and stability. Chapter 14 deals with public health, safety, public order and morality, with Chapter 15 dealing with offences relating to religion.
As regards public order and morality, some of existing laws being exercised in the country are 1982 Myanmar Citizenship Law, Anti-Corruption Law, 2013 Myanmar, Myanmar Tele-communication Law, 2013, 2014 Anti-Terrorism Law, 2014 Law Relating to Registration of Organizations, 2015 restrictions on religious conversions and polygamy and 2015 Myanmar Monogamy Law.

Peaceful assembly and peaceful procession law
Peaceful assembly and peaceful procession law emerged so as to bring about genuine and well-disciplined democratic system, a basic principle of the Constitution, 2008. The objective of peaceful assembly and peaceful procession law are as follows:
[A] for every citizen to keep the national security, rule of law, regional peace and stability and people’s morality
[B] for every citizen to enjoy rights granted by the Constitution—peaceful assembly and peaceful procession, giving protection under law,
[C] to protect people from hindrances caused by those who exercise rights given by the peaceful assembly and peaceful procession law
As for citizens and organizations desirous of having rights granted by the law, they need to submit to the township police forces office in writing, informing the matter of disclosing what they want to do with, the location where the demonstration will be made, amounts of participants to take part in the demonstration and other particular matters attached with the application, and thence to submit further to township administrative office, district administrative office and district police forces, it has been prescribed.
In making assembly and procession, it is strictly prohibited not to be armed with a kind of weapon, not to harm others and not to destroy properties along the route, not to make public nuisances in words or manners, not to block roads and traffics, not to make racial and religious conflicts with blasphemous talks or statements, not to make political agitations with fabricated stories, not to hold other signboards and posters apart from the ones informed to the township police force, not to use load speakers except for hand-speakers, not to shout slogans which had not been submitted, not to persuade others to take part in protests by paying or threatening or in dubious ways and not to breach the agreements negotiated with responsible officials, according to the requirements of the region.
Respective police forces are assigned duties under the peaceful assembly and peaceful procession law, to take action against violators of the above-said restrictions.

Enjoying citizens’ rights in accord with the law
According to the prescriptions of the Constitution, 2008 every citizen has the right to enjoy equality in freedom and justice, simultaneously responsible for bringing about peace, stability, rule of law in the nation. And, every individual must take responsibility for making efforts for building up the national unity and development, based upon the Union Spirit.
The people need to pay respect with admiration to the government elected by the entire national populace, themselves. Under the leadership of the government, people are required to abide by existing rules and laws. They are to take active participation in the government’s activities, keeping the concept in their mind that they all are responsible for implementing national security and rule of law in the nation.
May our citizens enjoy their rights freely, by abiding by laws and working hand in hand with the government!

Translated by
Khin Maung Oo

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