Legal Climate within Burma
Despite the election of the NLD in 2015 and reform of the country, there is still a large range of laws used to indict individuals and repress dissent. The legislation and their respective sections most commonly used to stifle political dissent are listed below. Where possible, examples of recent cases are also provided to demonstrate the ways in which these laws continue to be applied. Further details and examples can be found on the AAPP website in our Monthly Chronologies and Prisoner Profiles
Unlawful Associations Act Sections 17(1) and 17(2)
- “Whoever is a member of an unlawful association, or takes part in meetings of any such association, or contributes, or receives or solicits any contribution for the purpose of any such association, shall be punished with imprisonment of a term [which shall not be less than two years and more than three years and shall also be liable to fine]”
- “Whoever manages or assists in the management of an unlawful association or promotes or assists in promoting a meeting of any such association, or of any members thereof as such members, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term [which shall not be less than three years and more than five years and shall also be liable to fine]”
Sections 17(1) and 17(2) of the Unlawful Associations Act continue to be used under the current government to arrest, detain, and incarcerate people involved in religious organizations, political associations, trade unions, student associations, and a wide array of other activist groups, to stifle public opinion and political dissent. These laws are often also used to prosecute based on associations with ethnic armed groups. This is a concern as oftentimes due to the nature and prevalence of ethnic armed conflict across Burma, many people associate or cooperate with these groups under threat or fear of consequence.
U Tun Hla Kyaw was sentenced to two years in prison by a local court under Section 17(1) of the Unlawful Associations Act for launching a hot air balloon with a portrait of the chief of the Arakan Army (AA) in Rakhine State (see November 2018 Chronology).
Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law (PAPPL)
The Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law (PAPPL) is an important law that is often used to stifle activists and procession within Burma. It contains a number of restrictions and guidelines, often deliberately vague or arbitrary. , that protestors and activists have to abide by.
Section 12 of PAPPL details a number of restrictions and laws
- Those who participate in a peaceful assembly and a peaceful procession must obey the following rules:
- (a) They must not talk or behave in a way to cause any disturbance or obstruction, annoyance, danger, or a concern that these might take place.
- (b) They must not behave in a way that could destroy the government, public, or private properties or pollute the environment.
- (c) They must not obstruct or disturb vehicles, pedestrians, and people.
- (d) They must not carry any weapons during a peaceful assembly and a peaceful procession.
- (e) They must not say things or behave in a way that could affect the country or the Union, race, or religion, human dignity and moral principles.
- (f) They must not spread rumors or incorrect information.
- (g) They can carry and display flags, posters, and signs during a peaceful assembly and peaceful procession.
- (h) During a peaceful procession, they must not use loudspeakers other than the approved hand-held ones; they must not recite or shout chants other than the ones approved.
The large numbers of rules contained within the Peaceful Processions Act and its subsequent sections pertaining to the manner in which peaceful processions may take place are extremely vague and open to interpretation. Measures such as these allow this law to suppress political dissent and the right to Peaceful Protest and Assembly.
If these laws are broken, protestors can be charged under Section 19
If there is evidence that a person violates a rule in Section 8 Sub-section (e) or a rule in Sections 10, 11, and 12, that person must receive a maximum sentence of six months imprisonment or a fine of ten thousand kyat or both.”
Thet Zin and Kyaw Zin Lat, two committee members of the Movement for Democracy Current Force (MDCF), were charged under Section 20 of PAPPL for holding protests that called for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to take action against Burma’s generals (see October 2018 Chronology).
Penal Code Sections 143 and 145
143: “Whoever is a member of an unlawful assembly shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine, or with both”
145; “Whoever, joins or continues in an unlawful assembly, knowing that such unlawful assembly has been commanded in the manner prescribed by law to disperse, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both”
Unlawful assembly, under sections 143 and 145 of the Penal Code (which dates back to, and has remained almost entirely unamended since its publication in the 1800s) continues to be used to arrest and detain people participating in peaceful protests, in a similar manner to that under the Peaceful Procession and Unlawful Associations Acts.
Recent Case: 33 farmers were arrested and charged under Sections 143 for unlawful assembly for attempting to oppose land confiscation and land clearance over land that was taken for the development of a park (see September 2017 Chronology).
Penal Code Section 427
“Whoever commits mischief, and thereby causes loss or damage to the amount of fifty rupees or upwards, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both”
Due to being particularly vague, this offence of “committing mischief” can, and is often applied in many ways to punish dissent that may not specifically fall under other Acts or Sections of law and/or in conjunction with other charges, such as Criminal Trespass under Section 447 of the Penal Code. Ultimately this increases the possibly for harsher sentencing and more significant monetary fines.
Five farmers were sentenced to a fine of 200 kyats (USD $0.14), or to two weeks in prison after being sued, for ploughing on confiscated land under Sections 447 and 427 of the Penal Code (see July 2018 Chronology).
Penal Code Section 447
“Whoever commits criminal trespass shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three months, or with fine which may extend to five hundred rupees, or with both”
Chapter 3 in the Peaceful Processions Act requires all protests be subjected to government approval prior to going ahead. Section 447 is often applied to arrest and prosecute journalists and activists if they proceed with planned protests without prior government approval. Many applications to stage peaceful protests are rejected numerous times and frustrated activists who then assemble regardless, risk prosecution under 447 of the Penal Code.
33 farmers who were living next to a Special Economic Zone guilty were charged and sentenced under Section 447 of the Penal Code for cultivating on land seized by the government in Mandalay four years ago (see May 2018 Chronology).
Penal Code Sections 505(a) and 505(b)
“Whoever makes, publishes or circulates any statement, rumor or report, –
505(a): With intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, any officer, soldier, sailor, or airman, in the Army, Navy or Airforce to mutiny or otherwise disregard or fail in his duty as such; or
505(b): With the intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public or to any section of the public whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the State or against the public tranquility
Shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.”
Sections (a) and (b) under 505 of the Penal Code are used to stifle political dissent, using vague definitions and wording to imprison people for disseminating information, such as pamphlets, calling for political change, assembling in peaceful protest and publishing media content without prior permission from the government. Disseminating alternative opinions and sources of information, as well as having the right to assemble peacefully are key aspects of a functioning democracy and are fundamental human rights.
Former child soldier, Aung Ko Htwe, was charged and sentenced to two years imprisonment with hard labor under Section 505(b) of the Penal Code for allegedly inciting the public after telling his story of forced conscription to Radio Free Asia (RFA) (see March 2018 Chronology).
Telecommunications law Section 66(d)
66: “Whoever commits any of the following acts, on conviction be punished with imprisonment for a term extending to a maximum of three years, and shall be liable to fine or both
D: Using a telecommunication network to extort, threaten, obstruct, defame, disturb, inappropriately influence or intimidate.”
At present those who use the telecommunication tools, like emails, messaging services and social media are at risk of being incarcerated for defamation. This Article has quickly and unexpectedly become a tool to stifle those speaking out. Article 66(d) is an unnecessary provision in the Telecommunications Law. Its punishments are severe in relation to the crime, and there are other laws within Burmese domestic legislation that covers the same issue, for example Article 500 of the Penal Code.
- Monk U Thawbita was charged under Section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law for criticizing the Military and General Min Aung Hlaing on Facebook (see September 2018 Chronology).
- San Shwe was sentenced to three months imprisonment under Section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law for defaming NLD Member, Aung Ko Lwin, on Facebook (see September 2017 Chronology).