NLD to water down protest law, but keep prison penalties

By NYAN HLAING LYNN | FRONTIER

NAY PYI TAW — The National League for Democracy has put forward changes to the peaceful protest law that are likely to result in fewer activists going to prison.

Bill committee secretary Dr Myat Nyarna Soe proposed the amendment bill to the upper house on May 5.

Under the changes, protesters would still have to inform the township police and administrator of their plan to demonstrate at least two days prior to the event, specifying the place, time, route and speakers.

However, they will no longer have to seek approval from the authorities for their demonstration.

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The original Right to Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law was proposed by the Ministry of Home Affairs and approved in 2011. It required protesters to seek approval from township police and administrators for demonstrations, and illegal demonstrations carried a one-year prison term.

Following widespread complaints the law was amended in 2014, with police no longer able to reject protest applications. However, the law still required that organizers seek permission five days in advance, and only proceed with police approval – a clause that gave law enforcement authorities de facto veto powers. The penalty for breaching the law was also reduced from one year to six months.

In a move that is likely to anger human rights groups, the NLD has decided to maintain prison terms for breaches of the law. However, the term for failing to inform the authorities has again been reduced, to three months for a first offence. A second offence carries a one-year prison term.

Those who deviate from the terms of their proposed protest – by holding it at a different location, for example – also face a three-month prison term.

One issue with the current law is the tendency of police to arrest protest leaders up to a year after their demonstration. The amendment proposes a statute of limitations of just 15 days, ensuring police have to move quickly if they plan to open a case against protest leaders, U Myat Nyarna Soe said.

U Zaw Min, chair of the upper house bill committee, said the changes were designed to protect political activists and other protesters from the police and government. – Translation by Hein Ko Soe

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