Police Charge 4 People for Illegal Candle Protest

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 7 November 2013

RANGOON — Police in Rangoon’s Kyauktada Township will charge four activists with staging an illegal demonstration after they organized a protest on Wednesday against the local government’s plan to increase electricity prices in Burma’s commercial capital.

About 100 protestors took part in Wednesday night’s protest in front of Rangoon’s City Hall, where participants lit candles and urged Rangoon officials to rethink the electricity rate hike, which the Yangon Electricity Supply Board (YESB) announced last week.

Protest organizer Si Thu said four people, Thein Aung Myint, Tin Htut Paing, Kyaw Nay Win and himself, were informed by the Kyauktada police that they would be charged under Section 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Law, which requires prior permission from local authorities for any planned protest.

“Actually, only one of us, Tin Htut Paing, was brought to the police station after marching. Later the four of us were informed of the Section 18 charge, but I am not surprised—I have already been charged in seven other cases like this,” Si Thu said.

A Kyauktada Township police officer confirmed Si Thu’s account.

“We’ll charge them because they didn’t have permission to do that. One person was detained and we already released him with assurances [that he would not violate Section 18 again],” the officer told The Irrawaddy.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Wednesday ahead of the planned protest, Si Thu acknowledged that organizers risked Section 18 charges, having failed to obtain government approval for the candle-lit demonstration.

“I don’t accept Section 18 because it is very complicated law. The law means authorities don’t accept people’s criticism. It should be abolished,” he said.

Separately, activists and civil society groups met in Rangoon on Wednesday to discuss free speech issues in Burma. Out of that meeting, participants agreed to form a Freedom of Expression Network that will, among other things, “hold consultations and collect a broader public opinion on Section 18.”

Last week, the YESB said households consuming more than 101 units of electricity per month would have to pay 50 kyats (US$0.05) per unit, a price increase of about 40 percent. Commercial electricity rates will also rise.

A protestor who was involved in the protest on Wednesday said the size of the demonstration indicated people’s dissatisfaction over the electricity price hike.

“Our activists will also march again today from San Chanung [Township] to YESB’s head office in Ahlone [Township] at 6pm,” he told The Irrawaddy on Thursday.