Govt MPs push for new restrictions on public protests


NAY PYI TAW — Parliament is preparing to consider further restrictions on public protests next month, two years after the National League for Democracy government amended the Peaceful Assembly and Processions Act to give more rights to demonstrators.

Proposed changes would require rally organisers to identify individual and organisational sponsors, and an estimated number of participants, in any application to stage a demonstration lodged with police.

The amendments would also open up potential prison terms for anyone found to have lent financial or other support to a protest that undermined “national security, rule of law, public order, or public morals”.

Civil society organisations were not consulted on the revision to the law, and free speech advocates have condemned the proposed amendments for undermining the public’s right to peaceful assembly.

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“They are targeting groups they want to punish without taking into account their damage to freedom of expression,” former political prisoner and rights campaigner Maung Saungkha told Frontier. “We must say what they are doing this time is very bad.”

Enacted by the U Thein Sein administration in December 2011, the Peaceful Assembly and Processions Law has already been amended twice to ease restrictions on protestors.

Maximum jail terms for unlawful assemblies under Section 18 of the law were halved to six months in 2014. Soon after the NLD took office in 2016, the advance notice period for demonstrators to advise township police stations of a protest was cut from one week to 48 hours, and police powers to refuse permission for a public assembly were curbed.

The latest amendment proposals were submitted on February 20 by Dr Myat Nyan Soe (NLD, Yangon-3) after approval from the Amyotha Hluttaw Bill Committee.

Myat Nyan Soe is secretary of the Amyotha Bill Committee, and the changes have been approved by the Attorney General’s Office.

Amyotha Hluttaw speaker Mahn Win Khaing Than has asked lawmakers to file requests to speak on the bill by Wednesday.

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