YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar's nearly 2-year-old reformist government has abolished 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 state-run Myanma Ahlin newspaper reported Tuesday that Order No 2/88 was abolished as it was not in line with a section of the constitution that says existing laws should remain valid as long as are not contrary to the constitution, which guarantees basic rights such as freedom of expression.
The order had been applied selectively to crush dissent against the military regimes that held power until the elected government of President Thein Sein took office in 2011. His administration has instituted political liberalization, including lifting strict censorship.
The order had declared "Gathering or marching in processions and delivering speeches on the streets by a group of 5 or more people are banned." The junta used many catch-all or vaguely defined orders and laws as a means of suppressing dissent, and courts generally handed out stiff sentences, jailing thousands of political prisoners. Most have been freed under amnesties promulgated by President Thein Sein.
In December 2011, a "Peaceful Assembly Law" was implemented specifically allowing public protests. However, permission must be obtained in advance, without which organizers are subject to penalties including prison terms. Several people have been arrested under the statute.
Exercise of the new-won freedoms has tested the patience of the authorities. Last year, sensationalistic photos and stories in the media threatened to exacerbate already deep tensions triggered by violent clashes between two separate ethnic communities in western Myanmar.
A defense ministry statement published in state media Tuesday blamed unspecified embassies, organizations and media of releasing news and announcements that could cause misunderstanding of the military and the government in connection with fighting against guerrillas of the Kachin ethnic minority in the north.
The statement carried in the Myanma Ahlin daily said the embassies and media had made one-sided reports of the army's activities that failed to mention destructive acts carried out by the Kachin Independence Army, and its attacks on government convoys carrying food supplies to bases. Continued...