Myanmar Activists Held for Marching Against Protest Law

myanmar-march-aug-2013.jpg Activists march in protest against Section 18 of the Law on Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession in Yangon, Aug. 27, 2013.

Six Myanmar activists who marched in Yangon on Tuesday to protest a controversial law governing peaceful assembly have been detained and face charges under the same legislation they were demonstrating against.    

The protest marchers were detained Tuesday afternoon for violating the Law on Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession, which requires individuals to obtain a permit to demonstrate and allows the authorities to jail violators.

The six were among 20 protesters calling for the removal of Section 18 of the law, which carries a maximum sentence of up to one year’s imprisonment and a 30,000 kyat (U.S. $35) fine for violating the law.  

The six activists, who police said were arrested for marching without a permit, can be charged and prosecuted separately under Section 18 in each of the seven townships they passed through on their march through Yangon.

Two other protesters were charged under the same law on Tuesday for leading a march by hundreds last month to commemorate the anniversary of a brutal crackdown on the 1988 student-led pro-democracy protest movement.  

Activists and rights groups say the law, passed in 2011 as Myanmar began to emerge from decades under military rule, gives peaceful protesters heavy penalties and is used to silence activism instead of protecting the right to demonstrate.

'Written to charge political activists'

The group of activists from civil society groups Generation Wave, Generation Youth, Democracy Force, and the Tawwin Wood Products Factory Workers’ Union who marched through Yangon on Tuesday called for the release of all those held under the law and for an end to severe punishments for peaceful demonstrators.  

“We are protesting to abolish Section 18 because it was written just to charge political activists and it’s not in the people’s interest,” activist Tin Htut Paing told RFA’s Myanmar Service during the march before police took him into custody.

“We are working for the people’s interest. That’s why we want to abolish this article that blocks the people’s interest,” he said.

Tin Htut Paing was arrested alongside Hlaing Min Oo, Sithu, Kyaw Thu, Nilar Han, Kyaw Nay Lin by police from Kyauktada Police Station around 4:00 p.m. after the group marched from Sanchaung township to City Hall, fellow protester Kyaw Nay Win of Generation Youth told RFA.

Ahlone township police officer Tun Shwe told RFA the activists would be charged for protesting without permission.

Activists said police in each of the townships—Ahlone, Sanchaung, Kyauktada, Kyeemyindaing, Lanmadaw, Latha, and Pabedan—were taking action against the six.

8888 anniversary marchers

Meanwhile in Kyauktada township, two activists who led an Aug. 8 march honoring those who died in the “8888 Uprising” were charged for demonstrating without permission.

The two, Phyu Phyu Win of the Former Political Prisoners' Force and workers’ rights activist Win Cho, will be tried on Sept. 6.  

Students carrying wreaths marked with the number eight march in Yangon on Aug. 8, 2013 to mark the anniversary of the 1988 crackdown. Photo credit: AFP.
Students carrying wreaths marked with the number eight march in Yangon on Aug. 8, 2013 to mark the anniversary of the 1988 crackdown. Photo credit: AFP.
Some 200 people took part in the march, which was part of Myanmar’s biggest public commemorations in years for the Aug. 8, 1988 crackdown that had long been a taboo topic.

“The authorities said we were charged because we didn’t apply for permission for our peaceful march,” Phyu Phyu Win told RFA.

“We had passed through the six townships of Sanchaung, Dagon, Lanmadaw, Latha, Panbedan, Kyauktada. We have already been questioned by officials from the other five townships and we have been charged in Kyaukdata township,” she said.

At one point during the march police had blocked the demonstrators because they did not have a permit, but the demonstrators were eventually allowed to continue on their way to City Hall.

The two were taken into custody that day and released after signing a guarantee to appear in court if summoned.

Controversial law

International advocacy groups including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have urged Myanmar to amend the Law on Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession, including by eliminating prison terms for permit violations.

Among those who have faced detention and fines under the law are land protesters and activists who demonstrated against the controversial Letpadaung copper mine in northern Myanmar’s Sagaing region.

Authorities have used the law “to prosecute rather than protect” those exercising their basic rights, Human Rights Watch said in a statement earlier this year.

A proposal to abolish Section 18 of the law was submitted to the lower house of Myanmar’s parliament in June, according to Eleven Media group.

Legal experts argue that the law disregards citizens' constitutional rights of freedom of procession and assembly, it said.

Reported by Khaw Thu and Yadanar Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.


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