Another Activist Faces Section 18 Charges

By Salai Thant Zin 15 May 2014

A Burmese man calling for the dissolution of a controversial protest law is once again facing legal action for allegedly violating the same law.

Tun Tun Oo, an activist from the Human Rights Watch and Defense Network (HRWD), was arrested after protesting against Section 18 in front of township administrative, judicial and police offices in Daydaye Township, Irrawaddy Division, on May 9.

Section 18 is responsible for the continuing imprisonment of political activists in Burma, three years after a quasi-civilian government took power. The law requires would-be demonstrators to receive permission from relevant government authorities before staging a protest, but it remains highly controversial in the country, especially because government authorities frequently deny permission.

“A file has been opened for lone protester U Tun Tun Oo, and the police chief will act as the complainant,” said an official from the Daydaye Township police force.

The human rights activist has been prosecuted under Section 18 in the past, including after staging a demonstration in March this year with two others residents in the township to call for the preservation of mangrove forests.

“Every citizen is free to express his or her own will according to the Constitution,” Tun Tun Oo said. “But to express yourself, you need to ask for permission, and without permission you are subject to prosecution through Section 18.

“This goes against democratic norms, and for this reason, calling for the dissolution of Section 18 is an attempt to strengthen democratic norms.”

Section 354 of the Constitution states that every citizen has a right to freely express his or her beliefs, whether in spoken or written form, and to conduct peaceful processions or gatherings so long as they do not bear arms or threaten national security, peace or communal order.

In January this year, nearly 60 civil society groups, including the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society, called for the dissolution of Section 18.

Lawmakers in Parliament did not scrap the law, but they amended it in March by reducing the maximum prison terms for violating it.

More than 100 people are currently on trial for allegedly breaching Section 18, while 33 people are serving prison sentences after being convicted.