Freedom of Association and Assembly / Protests
Vajnai v. Hungary
On Appeal Contracts Expression
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On December 18, 2015, Daw Shwe Hmone, a senior reporter for Thamaga News Journal, was sentenced by a court in Kyaktada Township, Rangoon, Myanmar, to either 15 days in prison or to a fine of 10,000 kyat (approximately USD 7.70). She was found guilty after participating in a public prayer event held on November 2, 2014, commemorating the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists.
Global FoE could not identify official legal and government records on the case and information on the case was derived from secondary sources. Global FoE notes that media outlets may not provide complete information about this case. Additional information regarding legal matters will be updated as an official source becomes available.
In June 2015, Shwe Hmone was charged under Article 19 of the Peaceful Assembly Law. On November 2, 2014, Shwe Hmone participated in a demonstration that was held to commemorate the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists; the Myanmar government considered this demonstration illegal. Sources reported that around 150 people participated in the demonstration, which took place at a pagoda (temple) in Rangoon. The participants prayed for the wellbeing of Burmese journalists currently subjected to violence or imprisonment. Prior to the demonstration, organizers are said to have attempted to gain permission from authorities, but permission was granted only on the condition that the demonstration be held at a sports field in Tamwe Township. When the demonstrators went to the pagoda instead, the demonstration was labeled illegal.
In addition to Shwe Hmone, around 50 people participating in the demonstration were arrested, but Shwe Hmone was the only person who was charged. She initially wanted to face the jail term, but her colleagues paid the fine instead.
This case does not have an official court document. Sentencing individuals for a peaceful demonstration is not a new issue in Myanmar. The country’s Peaceful Assembly Law is always criticized by groups such as Human Rights Watch, Article 19, and Amnesty International. The law is said to prevent freedom of expression for having a variety of limitations. It requires organizers to give details of the event they would like to host five days prior the actual date. The details they have to submit include dates, time, purpose, itinerary, names and addresses of organizers and speakers, as well as the chants they would like to use.
Article 19 of the Peaceful Assembly Law stipulates that an individual can receive a maximum of three months jail term and a fine of 10,000 Kyat for engaging in conduct prohibited in Articles 10 – 12 of the Law as well as unspecified “local rules.” According to the Article 10 and 11, participants will face criminal liability if the assemblies in which they participate take place in a location authorities did not assign. The restrictions for assemblies described in Article 12 are also vague; this allows authorities the discretion to arrest and imprison individuals who participate in unapproved assemblies. Also, “reciting or shouting of chants” that have not been informed in advance, spreading “rumors or incorrect information”, or “saying things or behav[ing] in a way that could affect the country or the Union, race, or religion, human dignity and moral principles” are considered as illegal under Article 12 of the Law.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
This case contracts expression as the defendant was found guilty and fined for participating in a peaceful assembly. The law under which she was charged, and which the Court used to sentence her to criminal liability, does not support the exercise of freedom of expression.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
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