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Upper House votes in favour of amending protest law

An activist helps lead a protest in opposition to proposed amendments to Burma's Peaceful Assembly and Procession Law on 5 March in Yangon. (Photo: Ye Mon / DVB)

Despite public protest urging lawmakers to reject a bill amending Burma’s Peaceful Assembly and Procession Law, the Upper House of Parliament gave its seal of approval to the contentious legislation on Wednesday.

Eight lawmakers participated in a debate on the proposal on Wednesday, following which lawmakers cast their votes, with a majority in favour. The bill was approved with 113 members of the upper chamber supporting it and 78 against.

Upper House MPs sought some alterations to the proposed legislation that was initially submitted by the chamber’s Bill Committee last month.

The approved legislation now stipulates that if there is any individual or organisation providing funding to hold a rally, the name and contact address of the individual or organisation as well as the amount of money that will be used to fund the gathering shall be submitted to the relevant authorities.

The original bill stated: “If there is evidence that a person is giving money, material goods or other types of favours [to attendees] to join the assembly, with the intention of disrupting security, rule of law, tranquility or public morality … then he or she may receive a maximum sentence of three years’ imprisonment and a fine.”

In another change, that maximum prison sentence was reduced to two years under the bill passed on Wednesday.

A military-appointed lawmaker objected to the approval of the bill, saying it was not in line with parliamentary procedure and arguing that the deliberation and subsequent vote on the legislation had been rushed. But Mahn Win Khaing Than, the Upper House Speaker, dismissed the objection, claiming that proper procedure had been followed.

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in Yangon on Monday to protest the proposed amendments to the law, with critics saying it would further curb the ability of citizens to publically assemble.

With Wednesday’s vote, the bill will be sent to the Lower House for consideration. In the event of disagreements between the two chambers, further debate on the bill will be convened in the bicameral legislature.