01/30/2013, 00.00
MYANMAR

Authorities lift decades-old ban on public gatherings

Adopted in the late 1980s by the then ruling military junta to stop dissent, the ban only allowed gatherings of less than five people. Now the government wants to abolish all laws and regulations contrary to the constitution in order to protect freedom of expression. However, police charges people demonstrating for peace in Kachin state.

Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Burma's 'reformist' government has lifted a ban on public gatherings of more than five people that was ordered in 1988 on the day a military junta took power after crushing nationwide pro-democracy protests. The 25-year ban allowed the military to crack down on pro-democracy groups and cancel the 1990 election won by the National League for Democracy (NLD).

The state-run Myanma Ahlin newspaper reported today that Order No 2/88 was abolished as it was not in line with a section of the constitution whereby existing laws should remain valid as long as are not contrary to the constitution. The latter guarantees basic rights such as freedom of expression.

Over the years, the order was used to crush opposition to the military regimes that held power until the semi-civilian government of President Thein Sein took office in 2011.

His administration has instituted political and economic liberalisation, including lifting strict censorship, to breathe new life into the country.

However, some issues remain unresolved, such as tensions with ethnic minorities (Kachin and Rohingya) and the military remains the real power behind the throne.

In December 2011, a 'Peaceful Assembly Law' was implemented specifically to allow public protests. However, under the statute permission must be obtained in advance, without which organisers are subject to penalties, including prison terms.

In fact, even though Myanmar authorities are now required to ensure greater freedoms, this has not stopped them from being violated.

Recently, police charged five members of a group of peace marchers currently walking from Rangoon to Kachin capital Laiza. Although none of them has been arrested, each could be sentenced to a year in prison for each charge if they are brought before a court.

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