Freedom of Association and Assembly / Protests
Vajnai v. Hungary
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On May 15, 2015, the Dagon Township Court in Rangoon, Myanmar sentenced six human rights defenders to four years and four months in prison for (1) rioting under Article 147 of the Penal Code, assault or use of criminal force to deter a public servant from discharging his or her duty under Article 353 of the Penal Code; (2) for making statements causing undue public fear or alarm under Article 505 (b) of the Penal Code; and (3) for protesting without prior permission which is under the Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Law. She has been released on April 17, 2016 from Insein Prison in Yangon due to Presidential amnesty.
Columbia Global Freedom of Expression could not identify the official legal and government records on the case and that the information contained in this report was derived from secondary sources. It must be noted that media outlets may not provide complete information about this case. Additional information regarding this legal matter will be updated as an official source becomes available.
On December 29, 2014, Naw Ohn Hla and five other activists (Nay Myo Zin, Than Swe, Tin Htut Paing, Sein Htwe, and San San Win (Lay Lay)) held a demonstration. They were arrested for protesting outside the Chinese Embassy in Rangoon. The protestors demanded the government to investigate the death of Khin Win, a villager who was shot dead on December 22, 2014 by police during a protest against the confiscation of land for a Chinese company for the Letpaduang project in the Sagaing region.
The Letpadaung project is between China’s Wan Bao Company, the military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd., and the Burmese government. The project is unpopular among locals because it has resulted in land confiscations, environmental degradation, and the implementation of a policy of arresting and harassing peaceful protestors.
The protest had about 100 participants who marched to the Chinese Embassy on December 29, 2014 with the intent to lay wreathes in front of the embassy as a tribute to the late Daw Khin Win. The protestors were blocked by police before they could reach the embassy. It was reported that the two sides clashed as the protesters tried to break the barricades.
Naw Ohn Hla and five other activists (Nay Myo Zin, Than Swe, Tin Htut Paing, Sein Htwe, and San San Win (Lay Lay)) were arrested on December 30, 2014. On May 15, 2015, the Dagon Township in Rangoon found them guilty and sentenced them to four years and four months in prison. These charges fall under (1) Article 353, which pertains to assault or use of criminal force to deter a public servant from discharging his or her duty; (2) Article 147 for rioting; (3) Article 505 (b) for making statements that caused undue public fear or alarm; and (4) Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Law.
The defendants had also faced charges of violating the Peaceful Assembly Law in different townships court across Rangoon (Pabedan, Kyauktada, Latha, and Lanmadaw) with regards to the embassy protest. Naw Ohn Hla herself was also sentenced to four months in prison prior to this verdict on April 2, 2015 by the Bahan Township Court for violating the Peaceful Assembly Law during a protest on September 29, 2014. According to their lawyers, the defendants had no desire to appeal the verdict. Their attorney stated that “they don’t have a desire to appeal and they don’t trust in the appeals process.”
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
The ruling contracts expression as Naw Ohn Hla and the other five activists have been given a jail term because of the peaceful assembly.
The decision is politically motivated and is unfair to the defendants. The length of the sentence is harsh and does not carry justice because their actions should not be considered as a criminal offense the first place. It is known that Naw Ohn Hla along with other defendants were active in their political and human right activities. Therefore, they have been targeted by the military-backed authorities. The ruling in this case does not comply with the international human rights standards that guarantee the right to freedom of assembly.
In Myanmar, the Peaceful Assembly Law has created a serious human rights violation over the right to freedom of assembly because many activists have been jailed under the law. The law which requires those who would like to protest to ask for permission from the authorities first with the detail of date, time, and place as well as the purpose, schedules, names of the organizers and addresses.
It also should be noted that Myanmar does not have laws that give its citizen the right to freedom of expression and assembly. The country also does not follow any international human rights standards such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).
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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