The use of ‘section 18’ – also known as the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law – to punish and restrict activist’s highlights the lack of rule of law in Burma, with the Burma based human rights group the Assistant Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) highlighting cases of abuse of the law and urging immediate judicial reform.
Karen News can report that part of Burma’s legal code, which is supposed to protect citizens, is being abused to punish protestors.
Since section 18 was adopted on the 5 July 2012, at least 29 people have been sentenced under it. As of this week, 15 remain in prison.
Section 18 carries with it a sentence of up to a 1-year imprisonment.
The AAPP, an advocacy group that aims to free all political prisoners in Burma and improve prison conditions, said that this was greatly disproportionate to the severity of the alleged offence.
“The law allows the continued harassment and restriction of human rights activists and is contrary to both international standards on freedom of expression and the standards laid out in Burma’s own Constitution.”
The AAPP added, “The lack of consistency when applying this law demonstrates how the government are able to use the legal system to their own ends. It can be used to attack protesters and discriminate against political activists, while allowing others to hold assemblies freely.”
Basic International Standards Not Met
The government, led by President and ex-general Thein Sein, has put in place a number reforms that have opened up the once isolated nation, that has encourgafe international companies to invest in Burma’s untapped and rich natural resources sector, visits by powerful heads of state and the holding of by-elections that elected pro-democracy campaigner and politician, Aung San Suu Kyi into parliament alongside fellow members of the political opposition.
Yet in spite of these changes, Burma, unlike the majority of nations today, has not adopted policies and conventions that protect the right of protestors to demonstrate peacefully.
Under section 18 protestors first need to ask permission to assemble, and if permission is refused, the authorities are legally free to arrest anyone who goes ahead without permission.
The right to peaceful protest is enshrined in the norms of International Law. For example, Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights determines the responsibility of the state to facilitate peaceful protest.
Article 11 states:
1. “Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.”
2. “No restrictions shall be placed on the exercise of these rights other than such as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. This article shall not prevent the imposition of lawful restrictions on the exercise of these rights by members of the armed forces, of the police or of the administration of the State.”
And Articles 19 and 20 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 also confirm the rights to peaceful assembly.
Articles 19 states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
Article 20 also supports this right: “(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association and (2) No one may be compelled to belong to an association.”
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Article 21 states that “the right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”
Burma is yet to be one of 167 nations who have already signed the ICCPR covenant.
List of Section 18 Victims Grows
There are currently 128 people awaiting trial for charges under section 18 as of September 2013.
Many of those arrested under article 18 are prominent local activists who are protesting against large development projects, which have been tied to forced relocation, land confiscation, and environmental damage.
U Myint Aung was sentenced on 6th June 2012 for organizing a peaceful protest against the controversial Letpadaung Copper Mine. Despite the peaceful nature of the protest he has still been sentenced with one year and hard labor sentence. Two of his fellow activists were also fined 30,000 kyat for their participation in the protests.
Daw Naw Ohn Hla, who was also protesting against the Letpadaung Copper Mine Project, was denied permission to hold a public protest in August 2013. She was arrested under both section 18 and section 505 (b) of the penal code.
According to the AAPP, she was violently seized and her clothes torn when police surrounded the group of protesters. She has since been sentenced to two years in prison under 505 (b) of the Penal Code and is awaiting trial for section 18.
Ko Htin Kyaw, a leader of the Mayanmar Development Committee (MDC), staged a solo protest on the 15th December 2012, marching along Sulay Pagoda Road from the Theingyi market to the City Hall, calling for the authorities to resolve issues faced by monks after the crackdown on the Letpadaung protest camps.
Consequently, he was indicted under Section 18 in the morning of 17th December, 2012.
He and his three fellow activists are currently incarcerated in Insein Prison and he has now been indicted with further charges of sections 18 and 505 (b).
On 4tth July 2013, U Tun Tun Oo and U Than Win were indicted under section 18 for leading a protest with over 200 demonstrators. The request to carry out the assembly was submitted on 1st June 2013.
They were notified of the denial subsequent to the protest being held.