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Marching to the Same Tune? A Briefing Paper on Protests and Freedom of Assembly in Burma

By Burma Partnership  •  May 28, 2015

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Facilitated by the proliferation of social media as an agent for social and political change over the last five years, mass organized protests have simmered and erupted across the globe.  From the 2011 “Arab Spring” in the Middle East and North Africa, to the Occupy Movement in Western cities, from the 2013 Maidan Square Revolution in Ukraine, to the recent Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong, from stifled democracy movements in Iran, Russia and Cambodia, to austerity protests in southern Europe and the 2014 race protests in Ferguson, Missouri, United States, mass protests have been a defining feature of the decade thus far.  Neither is Burma a stranger to mass public protests, especially given its history of the pro-democracy student uprising in 1988 and the monk-led Saffron Revolution in 2007.  While it is still premature to claim that 2015 has been another key protest year in Burma, on a par with 1988 and 2007, protests have nevertheless dominated the headlines so far this year.

On 4 March, student activists faced off against riot police at Letpadan, Pegu Region, impeded from continuing their protest march to Rangoon as part of a nationwide campaign against the controversial National Education Law (the “NEL”).  After city authorities, assisted by gangs of pro-government thugs, forcibly dispersed a crowd of protesting students in front of Rangoon’s City Hall on 5 March, opposition political parties denounced the crackdown, while more students came out in Rangoon and Mandalay in support of those subjected to the repression.  Not only were some students arbitrarily detained, they also claimed to have been injured by police and a plain-clothes mob during this crackdown, before being threatened with prosecution under the notorious Section 18 of the Right to Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Act (the “Assembly Law”) – see below for more detail.

Then, on 10 March, police launched a violent, premeditated and cold-blooded crackdown on the student protestors and their supporters in Letpadan, brutally assaulting students, monks, ambulance workers and journalists, and arresting scores more.  The persecution of the students and their supporters shows no sign of abating, with 78 still locked up at the time of writing and others in hiding, as authorities continue to hunt them down.  Meanwhile their supporters are being intimidated across Burma by the Special Branch intelligence unit, as well as by administration and immigration authorities.  However, the detained students are receiving a huge amount of support from people and civil society groups across the country.

Meanwhile, the month of February saw sustained and widespread industrial action at garment factories in Rangoon’s industrial zones, with thousands of striking workers demanding better pay and working conditions.  A consistent demand among strikers was a pay increase of 30,000 kyat (USD30) per month, to try to secure a basic living wage.

Perhaps most pervasively, land protests have become increasingly common since the current quasi-civilian government assumed power in 2011.  Countless urban and rural communities across the country have protested against the illegal land grabs and forced evictions that have multiplied in lockstep with Burma’s breakneck surge towards economic liberalization, while others have attempted to take advantage of a slight thawing in the political climate since 2011 to reclaim land stolen by Burma’s pre-2010 military regime […]

Read the full briefing paper here

Read the press release here

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This post is in: Human Rights, Resistance

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