Upper House Approves Controversial Amendments to Protest Law

By San Yamin Aung 7 March 2018

YANGON — Myanmar’s Upper House of Parliament approved a set of controversial amendments to the country’s protest law on Wednesday despite strong opposition from activists and rights groups who claim the changes would further restrict the freedom of expression.

Thirteen lawmakers discussed the bill amending the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law on Monday and Wednesday, with all but one of them — including some from the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) — arguing against the changes.

“We have vowed to get rid of authoritarian acts and suppression of the people in Myanmar. The provisions [in the bill] go against those objectives,” NLD lawmaker U Htay Oo told reporters after Monday’s session.

Yet the bill passed with 113 lawmakers voting in favor and 78 voting against.

The Upper House Bill Committee submitted the bill on Feb. 19.

The amendments are being viewed as the latest attempt by the NLD-dominated Parliament to deter those with hidden agendas from masterminding protests and to reduce the risk of racial and religious violence.

If the changes are fully approved, Article 4 (d) of the law will require would-be protesters planning peaceful assemblies and processions to inform police in advance of not only their agenda and estimated numbers, but also the estimated cost of the event and the identities of the people or organizations paying for it.

The most controversial part of the bill would stipulate jail terms for those convicted of provoking or exhorting others to organize or participate in demonstrations by bribing or paying them or doing anything else with the intention of harming the stability, rule of law, peace and tranquility of the community.

The provision was criticized as being too broadly written; activists warn it could be exploited to stifle political dissent.

The bill will return to the Lower House where, barring any objections, it will be sent to President U Htin Kyaw to be signed into law.