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Myanmar protesters face legal action as proposed draft threatens to halt public protest

A group of protesters coming from different religious backgrounds who rallied through Yangon on Saturday, May 14 are facing legal action as police issued charges for violations against an agreed protest route. This comes at a high time when a proposed draft threatens to curtail public demonstrations.

"We have started legal action against five protest leaders under Section 19 of the Peaceful Assembly Act," said Lieutenant Major Win Tin from Kyauktada township police, as reported by Al-Jazeera. Myanmar police have taken legal steps on Monday, May 16 against the rally leaders who were protesting for religious tolerance. The rally leaders could be imprisoned for up to six months.

(REUTERS/SOE ZEYA TUN)National League for Democracy (NLD) party leader Aung San Suu Kyi arrives at the Union Parliament in Naypyitaw, Myanmar March 15, 2016.

This coincides with concerns raised among human rights groups who perceive the proposed amendments on the current Peaceful Assembly Act as imposing threats on the liberties of peaceful protests.

According to the proposed draft, protesters are still bound to notify the local police at least 48 hours in advance as well as inform the police not just the place and time but also the content of the speeches and slogans to be delivered. Failure to comply will warrant the protesters at least three months of jail time while repeat offenders are looking at a year of imprisonment.

"You don't need these punishments in your draft. If you remove these three or four things then it's pretty good and you won't be condemning another generation of peaceful protesters for breaking a flawed law," Human Rights Watch David Mathieson argued. Mathieson urged the government to reconsider since he believes that the revised law would only give free reign to abusive local officials.

The proposed amendments that aimed to modify the harsh penalties imposed on public protests are currently under review and due for debate by Aung San Suu Kyi's pro-democracy parliamentary government. Suu Kyi's party is comprised of former dissidents during the country's military rule while Suu Kyi herself was a well-known political prisoner. Under her administration that began only last November, numerous activists and political prisoners have been set free.

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