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Hakha protest against insufficient electricity supply postponed

14 January 2013: A peaceful protest against ‘insufficient’ electricity supply planned to take place in Hakha today has been postponed to 16 January following an official response from the Police Force.

The Hakha Township Police Force said permission for the rally could not be issued because it must be sought at least five days in advance according to the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law.

Event organizers admitted they managed to submit the permission application only on 11 January as their attempts to get public agreement to the protest had been delayed.

Salai Thang, who met with the organizers today, said the people were not disappointed with the response and the demonstration would be held on Wednesday.

The peaceful protest is to call for an increase in electricity supply, which is currently provided once every four nights for five hours from 6pm to 11pm with frequent power cuts.

A resident in Hakha named Martar Tluang said: “Normally, we have an electricity power cut from around 7:30 or 8pm until 10pm when we need it most. And it will be back on after 10pm when we go to bed.”

The authorities said the protest could be held but the public demand would not be met, according to unconfirmed sources from government employees.

Thousands of residents in Hakha are expected to join the peaceful march on Wednesday as more public announcements were also made during the church services yesterday.

However, the letter by Office of the Township Police Force said the number of people who can participate in the protest is limited to 200 only according to the law.

The organizers are now discussing how to deal with the situation as more than 200 are planning to turn up in support of the Wednesday rally.

Last year, Burma’s authorities summoned, interrogated, arrested, charged and sentenced several activists and demonstrators who participated in peaceful protests on different occasions in places such as Rangoon and Letpaudaung in Salingyi Township, Sagaing Division.

While the law ostensibly accepts the right to peaceful assembly, its provisions make it a criminal offense to give speeches that contain “false information,” and also anything that could hurt the state, or do anything that “causes fear,” a disturbance, or blocks roads, vehicles, or pedestrians, according to a report by the Human Rights Watch in Bangkok yesterday.

Convictions, HRW added, can result in sentences of up to two years and a 50,000 Kyat [$60] fine.

HRW called on authorities in Burma to drop charges against activists who took part in peaceful protests against government policies, urging to amend the 2011 Law Relating to Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession to conform with international human rights standards.

The Peaceful Assembly Law was signed by Thein Sein on December 2, 2011, amid fanfare and praise from several Western governments, HRW said.

Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director at Human Rights Watch, said: “The Burmese government evidently needs a mental reset to recognize that peaceful protests make for a vibrant democracy. Burma should have laws that encourage peaceful assembly and authorities who understand and respect it.”

Reporting by Thawng Zel Thang
[email protected]

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