Op-ed: Election candidates must pledge to amend the Peaceful Assembly Law

On November 8, the people of Myanmar will go to the polls to select their representatives in both houses of the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, Myanmar’s national legislature, as well as in state and region assemblies. With over 7,000 candidate applications from more than 90 political parties, there should be at least one thing that unites and drives each of those seeking to represent their constituents in Myanmar: upholding everyone’s right to peaceful assembly.

Tomorrow, a Yangon court will announce its verdict in a case the government brought against a poet and freedom of expression activist in July under the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law, also known as the Peaceful Assembly Law.

The case against Maung Saungkha, a co-founder of the research-based free expression advocacy group Athan, stems from his protesting the world’s largest internet blackout, in northern Rakhine State, without first notifying authorities. If convicted, he faces up to three months in prison and a fine.

The Pyidaungsu Hluttaw passed the current version of the Peaceful Assembly Law in 2016. It was a poor update on a similarly titled 2011 law that provides for the right to protest. Rather than protecting the “fundamental rights of the citizens” to protest, as it claims, the law is actually used to restrict the right to peaceful assembly through overly burdensome requirements for protest organisers and other restrictions that contravene international standards.

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