RANGOON — Four prominent right activists from the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society group were briefly detained in central Burma on Wednesday and charged with a controversial law that prohibits protesting without permission.
The activists said they were taken to a police station in Pakokku Township, Magwe Division, after leading a demonstration—one of many currently taking place across Burma—in support of amending Burma’s military-drafted 2008 Constitution before elections in 2015.
Activist Than Naing said that he and three others who gave speeches at the rally—Pyone Cho, Mee Mee and Nilar Thein—were charged under Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Law.
Than Naing told The Irrawaddy that his group asked authorities for permission to protest on March 17, but were rejected. The group also told the police again on Monday that they would be protesting.
“They charged us with Article 18 for violating the law,” he said. “They threatened us and told us we have to sign paper saying that we violated the law, but we refused to do it and told them to put us in jail.
“We told them we informed them already that we would protest. Then, they released us.”
He said police told protesters that demonstrations were not allowed in the town because a proposed legal change to soften the rules around informing the authorities of a gathering was still being considered in Burma’s Parliament.
Mya Aye, an 88 Generation leader, said the police’s explanation was unacceptable, and only went to show that they had no good reason to disallow the demonstration.
“Protests were allowed in different townships. But we only had a problem in Pakokku,” he said.
“It is sad to see such charges against our members, and to see them [the authorities] using their power to threaten the people, just as Parliament is preparing to amend Article 18,” said Mya Aye. “By charging our members, this could tarnish the image of the reforms in our country. It is sad to see it.”
Members of the main opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) and the 88 Generation group have announced a joint effort to try to amend the Constitution.
The charter includes measures that ensure the military’s place in national politics, and in Parliament, and a clause that means NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi cannot become president, among numerous other unpopular clauses.
But the coalition of campaigners has decided to first target Article 436, in Chapter 12 of the Constitution. The article gives the Burmese military an effective veto over constitutional amendments as it requires more than 75 percent of lawmakers—in a house where a quarter of seats are automatically filled by soldiers—to approve amendments.