Rangoon ‘Peace Walk’ Leaders Charged for Illegal Assembly

By Su Myat Mon 16 May 2016

RANGOON — Student leaders who led an interfaith “peace walk” of almost 100 people in downtown of Rangoon on Saturday are to be charged under Article 19 of the Peaceful Assembly and Procession Law.

Their infraction was to stick to their original proposed route—from Tamwe Township to Mahabandoola Park in the city center—in defiance of an order from police in the city to confine their protest to Bo Sein Mann grounds in Tamwe.

On Tuesday, two male students and one female student from the Yangon School of Political Science, named Htet Aung Lin, Phone Htet and Jue Jue Than respectively, received a summons from the Kyauktada Township police station to present themselves at the station and sign a confession that they had proceeded on an unauthorized route.

Thet Aung Lin, one of the student leaders, explained that they had stuck with the original route because of the many mosques, churches, Hindu temples, and Buddhist pagodas and monasteries encountered along the way.

“We had the right as citizens to do this [peace walk]” Htet Aung Lin added.

The commanding officer of Kyauktada Township police station could not be reached via phone by The Irrawaddy.

The participants of the peace walk, many of whom were drawn from the Yangon School of Political Science, observed a minute’s quiet contemplation in the buildings of four different religions, as a means of paying respect. They held placards reading: “Accept Diversity, Promote Tolerance” and “We All are Human.”

The peace walk, avowing interreligious tolerance, was held against an environment of increasing Buddhist ultra-nationalist mobilization in Burma. This has centered in recent weeks on condemning the use of the term “Rohingya” by members of the international community, to refer to the largely stateless Muslim minority in Arakan State, whom the government and much of the Burmese public refer to a “Bengali,” denying their claim to citizenship and to belonging within Burma.

On Friday, some 400 nationalists gathered in Mandalay, as reported by The Irrawaddy, to demand that the government officially denounce, within three days, the US Embassy’s use of the term “Rohingya” in a recent public statement. More than 50 monks from the ultra-hardline Buddhist nationalist association known as Ma Ba Tha took part.

Also being prosecuted under Article 19 of the Peaceful Assembly and Procession Law—on the same grounds of deviating from a route authorized by police and local authorities—are members of the Myanmar Nationalist Network, who led a rally outside the US Embassy in Rangoon on April 28, also to denounce the use of the term “Rohingya” in the same Embassy statement.

The ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) has recently proposed amending the Peaceful Assembly and Procession Law—passed in 2011 under the previous, Thein Sein government—so that would-be demonstrators would only need to “inform” local authorities 48 hours in advance, rather than request “permission” five days in advance.

Proposed changes in the law would also introduce a statute of limitations of 15 days and restrict the number of different township authorities that could prosecute demonstrators for the same protest. Controversially, prison sentences for violating sections of the law would not be scrapped, although their length would be reduced.