Central Yangon bans protests while critics are criminalised

Peaceful assembly

Security forces and regional governments in Myanmar are cooperating to restrict demonstrations and other political activities. In November 2017, authorities issued a ban on assemblies and processions in central Yangon, Myanmar's largest city. The ban, issued by a military-controlled ministry, instructs police in 11 townships in Yangon to deny all applications for processions or assemblies to avoid “public annoyance and anxiety” and “disturbance of traffic”. The directive sets aside one small area of Yangon for all protests.

The directive, which precludes protests near Yangon’s City Hall, most government offices, and many foreign embassies, makes it impossible for those protesting against government policies or acts of foreign governments to demonstrate anywhere near the target of their protests.

Human Rights Watch slammed the ban stating:

“There is no legitimate reason for imposing a ban on all protests in major sections of Burma’s largest city…The government needs to reverse this ban and uphold the rule of law and refuse to capitulate to arbitrary actions by the military.”

The organisation pointed out that governments are obligated to facilitate peaceful assemblies within sight and sound of their target audience under international human rights law.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) there was an increase in mobilization from farmers and villagers across the country in October 2017, over land grabbing issues, with some facing restrictions. On 18th October, police forced 200 demonstrators in the Tanintharyi Division to cancel a protest to denounce the confiscation of land by the regional government in 1990 as part of the Dawei Urban Development Project. The police deemed the demonstrators’ placards and slogans to be contrary to the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law (PAPPL). 

Expression

As documented by the CIVICUS Monitor previously, restrictive laws continue to be used to criminalise peaceful expression in Myanmar. Under Aung San Suu Kyi’s administration more than 70 people including bloggers and journalists have been charged as of November 2017, for their postings and comments on social media platforms that are deemed defamatory to the state or military.

Sedition provisions have also been used to silence critics. On 23rd October, Michael Kyaw Myint, who was preparing to leave for a protest to “reveal the truth” about alleged corruption by the Yangon Region government, was arrested and detained by police on charges of sedition under Section 505(b) of the Penal Code. He was remanded after appearing at Tamwe Township Court on 24th October and sent to Insein prison. His trial is ongoing. 

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) Burma criticized his arrest stating:

“The charges being brought against him are an attempt to silence him from speaking out which violates his rights to freedom of speech, opinion, and expression. Public criticism is an integral part of a democratic system where government representatives are elected by the people and held accountable by their constituents."

On 20th November, international and local rights groups and networks including CIVICUS issued a joint statement urging the UN Human Rights Council to hold a special session on the deteriorating human rights situation in Myanmar. The statement included a call on the Government of Myanmar to immediately and unconditionally release all individuals deprived of liberty solely for the peaceful exercise of their human rights, and revoke all pending criminal proceedings against such peaceful activists. Further it called for a review of laws which arbitrarily restrict the peaceful exercise of these rights and take appropriate steps to ensure the safety and security of journalists, civil society activists and human rights defenders and their freedom to pursue their activities without fear.