The authorities in Burma should drop charges against activists who participated in peaceful protests against government policies, Human Rights Watch reported on January 13 2013. Nine peace activists now have to face criminal charges for demonstrating in Rangoon without a permit on 21 September 2012 on International Peace Day.
It had also been reported that anti-mining protesters and land rights activists elsewhere in Burma had also been subject to prosecution for voicing peaceful protests.
"The government's prosecution of peaceful demonstrators reveals troubling limits on Burma's respect for basic rights," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Burma's leaders may be saying the right things at global forums and in bilateral talks, but their reform rhetoric rings hollow on the streets and in the fields where protesters assemble."
Human Rights Watch further called for an amendment of the 2011 Law Relating to Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession to conform to international human rights standards, including eliminating prison terms for permit violations. Despite the calls for the amendment to the law of the Peaceful Assembly the Burmese government continue to convict the peaceful activists exercising their right to freedom of speech.
Since September 2011, the authorities have denied protest applications on spurious grounds in Rangoon and Monywa. In addition, the authorities have violently cracked down on anti-mining protests near Monywa in Salingyi Township, Sagaing Division, and used the peaceful assembly law to prosecute peaceful protestors, rather than protect those exercising their basic rights, Human Rights Watch said.
In a recent incident, Burmese police had refused to issue a permit for an assembly scheduled to take place on January 10th 2013 in Myitkina, the capital of Kachin state, to mark the 65th anniversary of Kachin State Day.
Thirteen activists who participated with over 1,000 others in a march on September 21st 2011 in Rangoon called for peace in Burma's war-torn Kachin State. However they have been repeatedly summoned to local police stations and courts on charges they violated section 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Law, which requires a permit for demonstrations. The activists have to face up to one year in prison in each of the 10 townships through which the peace march passed.
The Burmese government had been reported to have used excessive force against protesters "A government apology and an investigative commission for the burning of the anti-mining protesters' camps is a good start, but it will mean nothing without results," said Robertson. "Foreign governments and corporations should insist on full accountability and legal reforms to ensure such incidents don't happen again."
International human rights law, as reflected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, protects the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Any legal restrictions on basic freedoms should be clearly and narrowly identified, strictly necessary, and proportionate. Burma's Peaceful Assembly Law makes the right to freedom of assembly subject to vague and over-broad restrictions at the full discretion of the authorities, and some violations call for disproportionate sentences under the law, Human Rights Watch said.
"The Burmese government evidently needs a mental reset to recognize that peaceful protests make for a vibrant democracy," said Robertson. "Burma should have laws that encourage peaceful assembly and authorities who understand and respect it."