Activists relay worries of draft association law to parliament

Aung Soe, one of the leaders of demonstrators peacefully protesting against the Latpaduang Copper Mine, is arrested by police in Rangoon on 2 December 2012. (Photo: DVB)

Civil society organisations (CSOs) on Wednesday reiterated their worries to the government about a draft law they believe will restrict their freedom of association, and which is currently awaiting passage through the lower house of parliament.

Drafted by the Ministry of Home Affairs last July, the legislation was met with vociferous criticisms from Burma’s CSO community as its provisions required all organisations to register with the government and to face harsh criminal penalties – including prison time of up to three years – if they were unregistered. The draft law was re-introduced a month later as the draft Association Registration Law, with the obligation to register and the prison term stricken from its text. This passed through the parliament’s upper house promptly and is expected to be discussed in the lower house this term.

But the new version still carried clauses that CSOs believe could restrict their freedom to operate – such as limits to their activities if they are registered to a township, but not to an administrative region. They urged the parliament’s Bill Committee and the Public Affairs Management Committee in a meeting last week to remove these provisions before it passed the lower house.

In a press conference on Wednesday, CSO representatives said that if their concerns were not addressed, they would bring the complaint to Burmese President Thein Sein.

“The Bill Committee said they have to negotiate with the Home Affairs Ministry and have been trying the best they can with it,” said Soe Tun of the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society, an organisation borne out of the 1998 student-led uprising against the government. “We decided to boost our efforts by reaching out to the President’s Office since we have tried all we can with our approach to parliament.”

Kyaw Thu, a former actor and film director who is now the founder and president of charity group Free Funeral Service Society, appealed to the government to allow the CSOs’ work to continue without complicated restrictions.

“Imposing restrictions on CSOs focused on humanitarian work is like shackling the Lord Buddha, who taught us to be kind and humane,” Kyaw Thu said, who vowed to continue his group’s work even if the law is passed.

“The government needs to have some compassion when drafting a law like this,” he said.

By PAING SOE (DVB)

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