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Myanmar's new right to protest insufficient: HRW

16 march 2012, 13:10
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Supporters wave National League for Democracy (NLD) in Myanmar. ©AFP
Supporters wave National League for Democracy (NLD) in Myanmar. ©AFP
Myanmar's new law allowing peaceful protests falls well short of international standards because of provisions such as the threat of jail for permit violations, AFP reports citing Human Rights Watch.

"Burma's new law on assembly rejects the previous ban on demonstrations, but still allows the government to trump the Burmese people's basic rights," the group's Asia director Brad Adams said, using the country's former name.

"There is a lot of excitement about changes in Burma these days, but the government shouldn't be given credit for allowing some freedom just because none existed before. Instead, it should be pressed to make sure its laws meet international standards."

The bill, formally approved by the president in December after passing parliament, is one of a series of reformist moves by the quasi-civilian government which took power last year after the end of outright military rule.

It requires that demonstrators seek permission from the authorities five days in advance in order to hold a protest. People who demonstrate without permission risk one year in jail.

New York-based Human Rights Watch urged Myanmar's parliament to repeal the law's provisions that fall short of international standards, such as the threat of imprisonment as a penalty for permit violations.

It also voiced concern that the legislation is vague and gives too much discretion to the authorities when dealing with protests.

Even if permission is granted, protesters can be jailed for up to six months for offences such as giving speeches that contain false information or hurt the state, it said.

"The real test of new laws will be to see what happens when Burmese attempt to use them," Adams said. "Burma's government will deserve kudos for legal reform only when people are allowed to exercise their basic rights."

Protests are rare in the authoritarian country, where pro-democracy rallies in 1988 and 2007 were brutally crushed by the junta.

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