Myanmar / Protesters take to streets over new regulations on public assembly

Posted on: March 6, 2018 | Current Affairs

New regulations on protest laws in Myanmar have prompted around 500 people to march in the streets of Yangon in a demonstration against the amendments

People holding posters and placards march during the protest against the controversial Peaceful Assembly and Procession Law in Yangon, Myanmar Photo: Lynn Bo Bo / EPA-EFE

Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Yangon on Monday to demonstrate against proposals being discussed in parliament to introduce new regulations on public protests

Under the suggested amendments to the 2011 Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law, a three-year prison sentence plus fines could be handed down to anyone who “instigates, tempts or persuades others, intentionally or knowingly” to join a protest by providing financial or other support, Reuters reported.

Further changes to the bill state that demonstrators must inform authorities 48 hours in advance of any planned protest and provide details of its sources of funding.

Activists have criticised the change, saying that the wording is too vague and that it could be used to stifle free speech and expression.

“We are protesting today because we see the possibilities of losing our democratic values,” said Naw Ohn Hla from the Democracy and Peace Women’s Group, as reported by Radio Free Asia.

The changes were proposed by a committee led by Aung San Suu Kyi’s ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party, which is reportedly looking to clamp down on nationalist protesters who are opposed to progressive reform and the civilian government, Reuters reported.

“It seems like they want to restrict lobbyists who pay money to people to protest, but it’s not possible to only restrict one side,” Maung Maung Soe, a political analyst who said he had signed a petition against the amendments, told the news agency.

Nearly 200 Myanmar civil society organisations signed a petition opposing the amendments to the law.

When Suu Kyi assumed office in 2016, ending decades of strict military rule in the country, she relaxed laws on peaceful protests. But two years on and the Nobel Peace Prize winner is facing increasing criticism from the international community over her handling of human rights issues, and many fear that this new amendment is a step in the wrong direction.

“It’s not too long since people got those rights. If we constrict those rights, there will be worries about going back to the previous situation,” said Hla Hla Soe, an NLD member of the upper house who opposes her party’s support for the bill, according to Reuters.

Members of Parliament are due to debate the bill next week, the Myanmar Times reported.

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