Electricity Hike Opponents Face Charges for Illegal Mandalay Protest

By Zarni Mann 1 April 2014

MANDALAY — Four activists here who oppose a government electricity rate hike are facing criminal charges after staging an unauthorized protest last week, while other protestors saw their demonstration cut short by police on Monday night.

Thein Aung Myint, Saw Hla Aung, Kyaw Myo Tun and Khet Khet Tin, who say they were brutally detained by police after staging a candle-lit protest in Mandalay on Thursday, were charged on Tuesday with violating Article 18 of the controversial Peaceful Assembly Law.

“The authorities said we are charged under Article 18 because we did not have a permit to protest,” said Thein Aung Myint, who was released on bail Monday after four days in detention.

The activists said they applied for the permit, as required under Article 18, but were denied permission to protest by local authorities.

“We oppose the brutal acts toward those who protested peacefully. We just wanted to send a message to the government that people disapprove of the electricity price hike, because the impact of this will be the hiking of basic commodity prices as well,” he added.

Meanwhile, another candle protest march on Monday in Mandalay was quashed by local police, who intercepted three activists on their way to the site of the planned protest.

“We applied to protest in front of the Divisional Electricity Supply Office, but did not get the permission and the police even stopped us halfway [to the planned protest site],” said Toe Gyi, who organized the scuppered protest.

“While protests in Rangoon have been allowed, I wonder why Mandalay authorities are so afraid of the protests,” he added, referring to a candle-lit demonstration in Rangoon on Wednesday of last week, which was allowed to proceed with no arrests made.

Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Law requires that permission from local authorities be granted in advance of any protest. Violators can face up to one year in prison, or a maximum fine of 30,000 kyats (US$30).

On March 19, Parliament approved a government proposal to increase electricity prices, starting on April 1.

Under the new plan, households using under 100 kilowatt hours, or units, per month, have seen the rate remain at 35 kyats per unit, but the price has increased to 40 kyats per unit for usage from 101 and 200 units in a month, and to 50 kyats for those using more than 200 units.

For businesses, the basic charge for those using less than 500 units per month is unchanged at 75 kyats per kilowatt hour. But large consumers using over 500 units will pay 150 kyats per unit above the 500 threshold.