Peaceful Assembly Bill passed, now awaits president’s signature

The right to peaceful protest - Journalists and activists rallied in Rangoon against the detention of reporter Ma Khine, on 7 January 2014 (PHOTO: DVB)
Burma’s Union Parliament on Wednesday passed without a vote a bill proposing amendments to the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law that would cut punishments for offenders and oblige authorities to accept all applications for public rallies unless they can cite “valid reasons”.

Saw Hla Tun, secretary of the lower house’s Bill Committee, said the bicameral parliament decided to skip debate on the bill as it had previously been discussed and approved by both the upper and lower houses. It now passes to the president for approval before being signed into law.

“As both the upper and lower houses have previously approved this bill, the Union Parliament decided to skip debate and formally pass the proposal on Wednesday,” he said.

According to the Burmese Constitution, the president must sign the bill within two weeks after receiving it or may send it back to parliament with recommendations. If the president does not attend to the bill within this period, it will be automatically adopted into law.

The “Bill Amending the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law” was first submitted to the lower house in November by the Public Complaints and Appeal Committee citing a public outcry against Article 18 of the Penal Code, which states that persons or groups who stage a public rally must seek official permission from local police, and that anyone who does not faces a jail term of up to six months.

The law was criticised by activists for, among other things, contradicting the constitutional Article 354, which guarantees citizens the freedom of expression.

Saw Hla Tun said the proposed amendments would half the maximum sentence for defying the law. Protest organisers would still be obliged to seek permission from local police and government authorities to stage rallies – however local officials would be prevented from denying permission unless they could provide “valid reasons” for the refusal.

This latter part of the proposal clarifies earlier media reports, including Twitter and Facebook reports by DVB on Wednesday, which said that organisers would hereafter only be required to “inform” authorities, but need not seek their permission. In fact, protestors will still require written permission from the relevant authorities before proceeding with their rally.

“According to the amendments, protest organisers are still obligated to seek the permission but on condition that government authorities and the police cannot reject them without providing a valid reason,” said Saw Hla Tun.

By SHWE AUNG (DVB)

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