Myanmar reduces penalties in public protest law

AP News
Posted: Jun 25, 2014 8:04 AM
Myanmar reduces penalties in public protest law

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar's parliament has reduced the prison terms for violating a law that requires people to obtain permission for public protests, state media reported Wednesday.

Under changes to the "Peaceful Assembly Law" the maximum penalty for those who cause unrest was halved to one year in prison, while the penalty for those who fail to seek permission for protesting was halved to six months.

The amended version still requires people to seek permission for public protests but it eliminated a clause from the original law saying that "authorities can reject the permission," implying that protests will be allowed as long as they are peaceful.

Human rights groups have criticized the law, which was passed in December 2011 and has been used to imprison land-grab victims and activists.

Activists and others responded to the amendment with calls for the whole law to be scrapped, saying it violates the constitution and people should not have to ask for permission to protest.

"Whether it is amended or not, the peaceful assembly law itself contradicts Myanmar's Constitution, which allows freedom of assembly under Section 354 of the charter," said Ko Ni, a lawyer and member of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's legal team.

Land-rights activist Win Cho, who was been charged more than 30 times under the peaceful assembly law, said he would reserve judgment on the revised law until he sees how authorities react to protesters.

"We will wait and see how the amendment affects us," said Win Cho, who was released from jail Tuesday after serving a three-month sentence for a past violation. He is currently on trial for another violation, after participating in a candlelight protest against an electricity rate hike in April.

"I will know the weakness of the law only when I apply for another protest," he said.