RANGOON — Five student leaders involved in a protest in Rangoon against the continued presence of military lawmakers in Parliament have been charged with unlawful assembly, according to a senior police officer in the commercial capital.
On Tuesday, a peaceful march led by students in downtown Rangoon drew several hundred protesters, with demonstrators calling on the military to relinquish its constitutionally guaranteed allotment of 25 percent of seats in the Union Parliament and regional legislatures.
The protest took place five days after Parliament rejected a handful of proposed changes to the country’s 2008 Constitution. The vote took place via secret ballot, but in deliberations leading up to it, arguments for and against changes to the charter broke cleanly: Elected parliamentarians spoke in favor of the proposed amendments, while lawmakers appointed by the military argued against the changes that ultimately failed to win enough votes, leading many to conclude that the military voted as a bloc against the bill.
Police Lt-Col KyawHtut of Rangoon’s Western district, where the protest took place, confirmed that the student leaders have been charged under Article 18 of Burma’s Peaceful Assembly Law.
“We filed a case against Zeya Lwin, Paing Ye Thu and three others under Article 18 yesterday at Kyauktada and Pabedan [townships’] police stations because they didn’t seek permission,” Kyaw Htut told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday.
“If we are able to identify more participants of the protest, we will charge them,” he added.
Paing Ye Thu, one of the protest leaders, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that he hadnot received any official indication from police that charges were being brought against him. He added that he would boycott any trial that might result from Tuesday’s protest.
“I would neither go to the court hearing nor apply for bail. Instead, I would go to jail,” he said, describing his decision as a stand in principle against Article 18.
Article 18 stipulates that organizers of any rally in Burma receive prior permission from relevant authorities,with violators subject to a maximum sentence of six months in prison and/or a fine not exceeding 30,000 kyats (US$25).
“We did what we believe was something for the good of the country,” Paing Ye Thu said. “All people know it. We will face whatever comes.”
Additional reporting by May SittPaing.