Decoding the amendments to the Penal Code

The Penal Code and Code of Criminal Procedure are more familiar to many people in Myanmar than the Constitution itself. This is because of the use, overuse or misuse of these laws. By amending these laws, the military is revealing its own vulnerabilities and insecurities.

Orders 5 and 6 issued by the military make several key changes to these laws. Section 121 of the Code is expanded to prohibit any attempts to overthrow the institutions of the state by unconstitutional means.

The offence of contempt is expanded to specifically prohibit contempt towards the Defence Services and its personnel (s 124A). Two new offences are added: sabotage or obstruction of the Defence Services or other law enforcement authorities (s124C); and disruption to the Defence Services or government employees (s124D). These are non-bailable offences.

Several other offences have been created, including a. causing fear, b. spreading fake news or c. committing an offence against a government employee (s505A) and attract a potential jail term of 3 years. Authorities can arrest people without a warrant for these offences.

Order 6 fails to specify what court (or which class of judges) can try these offences. Given the very broad definition of these crimes, I suspect we will soon find out.

Again, can the Commander in Chief make these changes? Only if the section 417 declaration of emergency was constitutionally valid, which it was not.