YANGON — Some 500 people took to the streets in Yangon on Monday to protest proposed amendments to the Peaceful Assembly and Procession Law, which prescribes a three-year prison sentence for funding a protest.
Political and human rights activists and representatives of civil society organizations (CSOs) joined the demonstration, marching from Thakhin Mya Park to Maha Bandoola Park along Bogyoke Aung San and Anawrahta roads.
The protesters said the proposed amendments further restrict people’s freedom of expression and are so broadly defined that they could be exploited to stifle political dissent.
“The law prohibits freedom of expression and procession, which is against democratic norms. It prescribes three years’ imprisonment. And it infringes on people’s privacy,” Land in Our Hands Network general secretary Ko Si Thu told The Irrawaddy.
A total of 230 CSOs and 25 individuals issued a joint statement opposing the bill to amend the Peaceful Assembly and Procession Law.
Article 4 of the draft law states that demonstrators who want to exercise their right to peaceful assembly and procession are required to inform police at least 48 hours before the intended day of the rally and to ensure the rally is “not contrary to the existing laws, stability, rule of law, peace and tranquility of the community and public morality.”
CSOs have called for abolishing this provision, saying that it is too broadly defined, and is similar to Article 354 of the 2008 Constitution.
Article 4 (d) states that “protest organizers shall present in detail to the authorities the estimated cost of the protest and source of funds.” CSOs said this infringes on individual privacy rights and the protesters’ confidentiality.
Section 19 of the proposed bill states that “anyone who provokes, persuades or urges anyone to join a peaceful assembly and peaceful procession by using money or assets or other ways, with intent to shatter state security, law and order, will receive a three-year prison sentence and unlimited fine.”
CSOs pointed out that the punishment in the proposed bill is much harsher than the one in the original law.
Lawmakers discussed the draft law in the Upper House on Monday. Four of the five lawmakers who spoke argued against the draft law.
U Khin Maung Latt of Arakan National Party said the draft law contributes to authoritarianism rather than democracy.
Naw Susana Hla Hla Soe of the National League for Democracy (NLD) said Article 4 of the draft law is broadly defined and infringes on human rights.
“‘Peace and tranquility of the community’ and ‘public morality’ are quite broad. It largely depends on authorities to determine what action infringes on them,” she said.
Though Article 4 (d) seems to target dishonest demonstrations, people can differentiate between real and fake ones, she said, adding that Parliament therefore needs to consider whether the article is necessary.
“We have vowed to get rid of authoritarian acts and suppression of the people in Myanmar. The provisions [in the draft law] go against those objectives,” NLD lawmaker U Htay Oo told the media.
On Wednesday, eight more lawmakers will debate the draft law, and it will be put to a vote.