5 Months On, Lawmakers Still Waiting to Debate Proposed Protest Law Changes

By Htet Naing Zaw 14 August 2018

NAYPYITAW — The Lower House of Parliament has yet to begin debate on proposed amendments to the Peaceful Assembly and Procession Law nearly five months after they were submitted to the chamber.

The bill was forwarded to the Lower House in March. Twenty civilian lawmakers from different parties and 60 military representatives have registered to debate the bill, said U Kyaw Soe Lin, secretary of the chamber’s Bill Committee.

Because the debate is likely to take a while, the committee recommended that lawmakers discuss the bill in a separate meeting and approve or reject the amendments by consensus, but lawmakers rejected the idea.

“None of the lawmakers is willing to compromise on the bill. They insist that they will debate it in Parliament. So we have submitted their request to Parliament as it is their right,” U Kyaw Soe Lin told reporters on Monday.

U Thein Tun Oo, spokesman for the Union Solidarity and Development Party, speculated that debate was being delayed because of opposition from his party and civil society organizations.

“When the bill was first submitted to the Upper House, we opposed it because it denies the rights of citizens. The bill denies the rights of citizens enshrined in the Constitution,” U Thein Tun Oo told The Irrawaddy.

In March, the Upper House of Parliament approved the set of controversial amendments to the law despite strong opposition from activists and rights groups who claim the changes would further restrict the freedom of expression.

Even some lawmakers from the ruling National League for Democracy voted against the bill, which was approved with 113 votes for and 78 votes against.

If the changes are fully approved, Article 4 (d) of the law will require would-be protesters planning peaceful assemblies and processions to inform police in advance of not only their agenda and estimated numbers, but also the estimated cost of the event and the identities of the people or organizations paying for it.

The most controversial part of the bill would stipulate jail terms for those convicted of provoking or exhorting others to organize or participate in demonstrations by bribing or paying them or for doing anything else with the intention of harming the stability, rule of law, peace and tranquility of the community.

The provision was criticized as being too broadly written; activists warn it could be exploited to stifle political dissent.

U Tun Tun Hein, a member of the NLD’s central executive committee, told reporters in March that the existing law was enough to regulate people who want to stage protests with good intentions.

“But if it is applied for destructive purposes, we have to do what it takes in the interests of the country,” he said.

U Kyaw Soe Lin said the bill was likely to be discussed during the current session of Parliament.

The General Administration Department of the Home Affairs Ministry and the police are the primary agencies responsible for enforcing the protest law.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.