Three Charged Under Protest Law for Pathein Peace Day March

By San Yamin Aung 24 September 2014

RANGOON — Three activists in Irrawaddy Division’s Pathein Township have been charged under Article 18 of Burma’s controversial protest law after organizing an International Peace Day event in the delta town.

Around 150 people joined the demonstration, which was organized by the Ayeyarwady Youth Network on Sunday in Pathein, with participants marching through streets, singing songs and distributing pamphlets to mark International Peace Day.

On Monday, however, police in Pathein opened a case against the three activists, alleging a violation of the Peaceful Assembly Law’s Article 18. Bo Bo from Myaungmya Township, Tin Htun Khaing from Pathein Township and Nan Aye Aye Khaing from Labutta Township have been charged under the controversial law, which requires anyone seeking to hold a public protest or demonstration to receive permission from local authorities in advance of the event.

“We held it for peace and to express that we, the public, don’t want war and we want peace,” Bo Bo told The Irrawaddy, of the activists’ motivations.

Nan Aye Aye Khaing said the organizers did not expect that they would be charged for holding the International Peace Day event, which is marked every year globally on Sept. 21.

“We are not protesting. We just want peace,” she said. “If we were to try to point out a place where there is peace, in the whole country, we wouldn’t be able to point to anywhere. Not only in places where civil wars are ongoing but also in other places with other problems like land-grabbing.”

The organizers informed officials that they would hold the event on Sunday in compliance with the protest law’s prior notification provision, Nan Aye Aye Khaing said, adding that the authorities had indicated that the activists were free to proceed with the planned demonstration.

“We submitted notification to the Ministry of Social Welfare, Pathein City Development Committee and the police station in Pathein. We didn’t ask for permission because we heard that the government was officially allowing International Peace Day events,” she said.

Asked by The Irrawaddy, the police station in Pathein refused to explain why authorities there had charged the three peace marchers.

Peace rallies were also held at several sites in Rangoon on Sunday, with hundreds of people joining in calls for an end to conflict in Burma.

The demonstration in Pathein is the latest case of activists running afoul of a law that was amended this year, ostensibly to encourage greater freedom of expression, but which continues to be used to jail protesters across Burma.

If found guilty, the defendants could face up to six months in prison and 30,000 kyats (US$30) in fines.