New arrests of peaceful protesters in Myanmar seriously undermine the credibility of the far-reaching Presidential pardon issued at the end of 2013, Amnesty International said today.
At least three people have been charged in January under a draconian anti-protest law for acts of peaceful protest. These include two land rights activists and a Buddhist monk on hunger strike. These are the first protest-related charges since a government pardon on 30 December 2013 of all those convicted under several repressive laws.
“The Myanmar government has done much to try to convince the world that it is turning a corner on human rights. But these charges clearly show how the same repressive tactics are continuing,” said Isabelle Arradon, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Deputy Director.
“The new charges seriously call into question the government’s commitment to human rights. Last year’s amnesties and pardons will have been meaningless if the authorities simply continue to harass those peacefully exercising their rights.”
All three men have been charged under the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law, a contentious piece of legislation that places far-reaching restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. If convicted and imprisoned Amnesty International would consider them to be prisoners of conscience.
Article 18 of this law imposes up to one year in prison, a fine or both for protests arranged without government permission.
“The Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law is a deeply flawed piece of legislation – one of many in Myanmar – that severely curtails the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. It is almost exclusively used to target peaceful protesters and human rights defenders the authorities consider inconvenient and should be immediately repealed or amended to comply with international standards,” said Isabelle Arradon.
“Human rights defenders in Myanmar must be able to freely operate and carry out their legitimate work.”
Some 500 farmers from around Myanmar protested in Yangon on Saturday 18 January 2014 to call for the return of land seized under the military government. Two of the protest organizers – Nay Myo Zin and Win Cho from the local NGO the Myanmar Social Development Network – were charged for protesting without authorization under Article 18 by the Kkyauktada Township police. They were briefly detained before being released on bail.
Monk Rakkha Wuntha – who is on hunger strike – is facing charges in connection with a peaceful march from Magwe Region to Sittwe in Rakhine State calling for the release of remaining political prisoners. He was charged under Article 18 on 8 January, despite this law only applying to assemblies or processions of more than one person.
“The charges against Nay Myo Zin, Win Cho and Rakkha Wuntha must be dropped immediately – they have done nothing wrong except peacefully expressing their opinions. It’s incredulous to think that a single person, peacefully marching for the release of political prisoners, could somehow threaten state security,” said Isabelle Arradon.
Myanmar President Thein Sein had promised to release all prisoners of conscience by the end of 2013, but despite several amnesties last year there are still people in jail for peacefully exercising their rights.
These include Dr Tun Aung, a Rohingya Muslim community leader who was arrested in June 2012 when he was trying to intervene to prevent violence between Muslims and Buddhists in Rakhine State and Kyaw Hla Aung, a prominent human rights defender who has been arbitrarily detained since 15 July 2013 and is currently on trial facing a lengthy prison sentence. Both men are prisoners of conscience and must be immediately and unconditionally released.