The Myanmar parliament has reportedly only made token and insignificant changes to a draconian anti-protest law, raising serious questions about the authorities’ commitment to human rights reforms, Amnesty International said.
The contentious Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law places far-reaching restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and is often used to target activists and human rights defenders.
The amendments reportedly proposed in parliament on 19 February still leave peaceful protesters at risk of arrest and imprisonment while allowing authorities to prohibit demonstrations they do not agree with.
“These proposed amendments do not go nearly far enough. It is positive that authorities have shown a willingness to reform the law, but the reform is meaningless if the same people are still at risk of being locked up and harassed for speaking out peacefully,” said Polly Truscott, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia Pacific Director.
“The Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law is a deeply flawed piece of legislation and should be repealed immediately or substantially revised to bring it in line with international standards.”
National and international non-governmental organizations have consistently raised concerns about this law since it was enacted in 2012, in particular Article 18 which provides for up to one year in prison, a fine or both for protests arranged without government permission and which has been used as a basis for the arrest and imprisonment of scores of peaceful protesters.
Under the law, authorities can block protests from going ahead on vague grounds – including “national security” and threats to “public tranquillity”.
The proposed amendments would reportedly see prison sentences under Article 18 cut in half to a maximum of six months, and still allow authorities to reject protests on ill-defined “reasonable” grounds.
So far this year, at least 25 people have been arrested under the law, five of whom have already been sentenced to prison terms.
On 14 February Ko Thein Aung, a member of the Burmese activist group 88 Generation Peace and Open Society, and four others activists were sentenced to terms of between three and six months’ imprisonment for peacefully protesting against Article 18 in Khin-Oo Township, Sagaing Division in January 2014. They were imprisoned under the same provision they were protesting against.
“If the Myanmar government is genuine about improving human rights in the country, it must show this through action, not just promises. This is just one of many laws still used in the country that violates freedom of expression,” said Polly Truscott.