02/29/2008, 00.00
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Prison for anyone handing out leaflets during referendum campaign

Military regime adopts law that sets the terms for next May’s constitutional referendum. Members of religious orders, whatever their religion, are barred from taking part so are political prisoners.

Yangon (AsiaNews) – The referendum law adopted by the Myanmar government last Tuesday bars members of religious orders, prison inmates and Myanmar citizens who “illegally” left the country from voting. Campaigning against the referendum has also been made punishable by up to three years in prison.

The law defines members of religious orders as Buddhist monks, nuns, novices and religious laymen, as well as serving members of Christian and Hindu religions, the Democratic Voice of Burma reported on its website.

Political prisoners are also ineligible to vote.

Chapter 10 of the law sets out penalties for anyone attempting to disrupt the referendum, for example by voting more than once, falsifying ballot papers or tampering with ballot boxes.

It also outlaws “lecturing, distributing papers, using posters or disturbing the voting in any other manner . . . to destroy the referendum”.

This law is likely to criminalise the activities of many opposition activists, some of whom have called for a boycott of the referendum.

Article 25 provides for a prison sentence of up to three years or a fine of up to 100,000 kyat, or both, for any violation of these restrictions.

The decision to hold a referendum has been criticised as a move to ease international pressures on the ruling military junta.

The referendum is part of the controversial roadmap it launched in the 1990s and the country has been without a constitution since 1988.

The proposal drafted by the junta has not yet been made public. What little is known about it suggests though that the new charter will ensure the generals will maintain their stranglehold over the country and keep pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi out of politics.

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