'Right to Protest' Framework Issued to Burma MPs

By Lawi Weng 10 July 2012

Burma’s Ministry of the Interior on Thursday released details of a proposed framework for the law that was passed last year according civilians the right to gather and protest peacefully.

State-run media reported on Tuesday full-page copies of the ministerial document which details procedures for applying to hold a demonstration, grounds for refusal, and the procedure for appeal. The regulations have been distributed to MPs who must deliberate the motion in Parliament in the near future.

The right to “assemble peacefully without arms and holding procession” is protected by the 2008 Constitution under Chapter VIII’s “Citizen, Fundamental Rights and Duties of the Citizens” section.

Burmese rights activists said they welcomed the framework, but noted that it contained several restrictions. Pho Phyu, a prominent civil rights lawyer, said the new guidelines will allow farmers to fight for their lands that were confiscated.

88 generation student leader Ko Ko Gyi also voiced his support for the proposed edict, saying it will allow for gatherings and peaceful protests. He said that “although the proposed law contains restrictions, we will only know if it works if we practice it.”

But Aung Htoo of the Burma Lawyer’s Council called the proclamation “a trap.” He said that the government can arbitrarily accuse protesters of threatening national security, therefore the new decree would not protect protesters nor guarantee their safety.

The ministerial statement says, “Any person wishing to lead or organize a rally must inform the township chief of police at least one week beforehand and get approval from both the police and the township authorities.”

In addition, one clause states: “Anyone wishing to speak [at the rally] must submit a personal biography.” Rights activists immediately cited this clause as unconstitutional and said it should be withdrawn.

However, the proposed framework states that police and township authorities cannot reject permission to a request from protesters if the gathering “does not threaten national security, rule of law, or state peace and development.”

Pho Phyu said he openly questions this clause. “It only mentions the security of the country,” he said. “But how about the security of the people?”

He also noted that if authorities are given one week’s notice, they have plenty time to prepare a crackdown.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Tuesday, Ko Ko Gyi said that even though the president and the representatives of Parliament have spoken about the political changes in the country, there still exist some authorities who do not understand and who do not want change.

Until President Thein Sein’s administration was sworn in on March 31, 2011, Burma had been ruled by a succession of military juntas for nearly 50 years. Many political activists remain behind bars though a significant number was released in recent months.

About 12 political prisoners were granted an amnesty this week, and according to New York-based Human Rights Watch, at least 659 political prisoners in Burma have been freed over the past year. It says that some 200 to 600 political activists remain in detention across Burma.

On July 7, about 20 activists across Burma who were planning to hold a memorial event to mark the 50th anniversary of the destruction of the Students Union building at Rangoon University were detained by security forces. All were later released unharmed.