Myanmar charges 51 over labor protest

Myanmar charges 51 over labor protest

Detention of protesters demanding better working conditions comes amid Suu Kyi government efforts to amend assembly law

YANGON (AA) – Around 50 protesters have been charged in Myanmar after participating in a weeks-long march to capital Nay Pyi Taw to demand better working conditions at a timber factory in the country’s northwest.

The Myanmar Times reported Friday that after an 80-strong crowd that had marched from Sagaing city arrived near the capital, scuffles broke out Wednesday as officers shoved the protesters into prison vans in Tatkon township.

Aye Thaung, Ottarathiri township’s district administrator, told the Times that Tatkon police detained 71 people.

“Among them, 57 people, not including the 14 leaders, were beseeched by Pyithu Hluttaw [lower house] MP U Kyaw Tint and town elders to return to their home town,” he said.

He added that 20 of them consented and were placed on a bus to Sagaing, while the others would be prosecuted for unlawful assembly, rioting and creating public fear.

The marchers’ detention comes at a time when the government of Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) is working on amending the country’s Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Act.

According to rights groups and critics, the legislation had been used in attempts by the former junta and previous quasi-civilian to rein in protesters and activists.

The NLD, many of whose lawmakers -- including Suu Kyi -- are former political prisoners, has long advocated for political prisoners and the new government has already freed more than 280 “prisoners of conscience”.

Amnesty International has welcomed parliamentary efforts to revise the Act, but warned that “the proposed amendments fall far short of bringing the Act into line with international human rights law and standards”.

“As it stands the draft retains restrictions to the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly which breach international human rights law,” the international rights group said in an open letter earlier this month.

“We are deeply concerned that, if adopted in its current form, peaceful protesters, including human rights defenders and other activists, will remain at risk of arrest and imprisonment simply for the peaceful exercise of their rights.”

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