Burma’s Draconian Protest Laws Repress Dissent

Political prisoner

Burma Campaign UK, a human rights advocacy organisation, has called for Burma’s President to release the country’s remaining political prisoners and repeal Article 18 of the controversial Peaceful Procession and Peaceful Assembly Law, claiming that the law is being used to repress political dissent.

In its media statement, Burma Campaign UK cited the cases of Nay Myo Zin and Win Cho, two former political prisoners who had found themselves in prison again for breaking Article 18 by organising a protest without government permission on January 17th 2014. Nay Myo Zin and Win Cho had been marching to demand the establishment of a farmers’ union, the release of the country’s remaining political prisoners and changes to the constitution.

The two activists were arrested the following day and charged under Article 18 of the Peaceful Processions Law because the protest did not have official permission – Nay Myo Zin and Win Cho were given a three month prison sentence in March, to be served inside the country’s notorious Insein prison.

Section 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Law and Section 505 (b) of the Penal Code requires all protests to be signed off by the authorities. Sometimes facing multiple official rebuttals, protests go ahead ‘illegally’ – protestors caught doing so can face long prison sentences and hefty fines.

Burma Campaign UK called for independent review regarding the issue of political prisoners in Burma.

“A permanent independent political prisoner review mechanism involving international expertise should be established to address the ongoing problem of political prisoners in Burma.”

Wai Hnin, Campaigns Officer at Burma Campaign UK, said that Burma’s “repressive” protest laws undermined the country’s road to reform and did not meet international standards.

“Even after proposed changes, Burma’s so called right to protest law is not compatible with international standards,” Wai Hnin said, adding, “activists like Nay Myo Zin and Win Cho are being arrested under this repressive law for organising peaceful protests. The issue of political prisoners will remain a big problem unless all repressive laws are repealed in the country.”

President Fails To Deliver On Promise
On July 15, Burmese President Thein Sein committed to free all prisoners of conscience by the end of 2013, when on a London visit he met with British PM David Cameron.

“I guarantee to you that by the end of this year, there will be no prisoners of conscience in Myanmar. We are aiming for nothing less than a transition from half a century of military rule and authoritarianism to democracy,” the president said.

The Association Assisting Political Prisoners – Burma (AAPP) said that Thein Sein’s failure to deliver on his promise to release all political prisoners by the end of 2013 highlighted the Government’s hostility to dissenting political voices.

AAPP estimate that at least 33 political prisoners are still held in prisons across the country.

“Ongoing arrests shows that President Thein Sein has not kept his promise to release all political prisoners by 2013. I think this is because of a lack of political will. There are around 170 activists including farmers and journalists awaiting sentencing.” Bo Kyi, Joint-Secretary of the AAPP said in a March interview with Karen News.

Bo Kyi added that arbitrary detention and torture were an ongoing reality in Burma in spite of the country’s recent reforms.

“The issue of political prisoners is not yet solved. The government are still using oppressive laws to restrict freedom of expression, freedom of movement and freedom of assembly. There is a lack of rule of law, and arbitrary detention and torture are ongoing in Burma.”

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