More than 1,000 villagers in Magwe Division demonstrated on Monday calling for the dismissal of a government minister caught on tape making offensive remarks.
One protest leader was charged in Aung Lan Township on Tuesday under the controversial Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Law, since the authorities did not give permission for the protest to go ahead, making it illegal under the law.
Aung Lan residents marched along the town’s main street, reportedly shouting slogans—including “We don’t want the union minister who would slap the public”—and demanding that action is taken against Minister of Livestock, Fisheries and Rural Development Ohn Myint.
Remarks made by Ohn Myint, a former military general, to locals in Magwe town’s Thityakauk village last month have caused widespread outrage. A video posted online shows him ranting and people demanding clean drinking water on Jan. 28. In the video, the minister declares that he would not hesitate to “slap” anyone who opposes government policies.
“I can go around and slap everyone’s faces… If anyone insults or opposes the government, [I will] hit them and lock them up,” the minister was recorded saying.
Protest leader Myat Ko told The Irrawaddy that he was called to the township police station on Tuesday morning, and will have to appear before a court for holding the protest without permission.
“The head of township police U Htay Maung told me that I am charged with Article 18 [of Peaceful Assembly Law] and I am now on bail,” he said.
Scores of activists across Burma have been jailed under Article 18 in recent years, but President Thein Sein issued an amnesty on Dec. 31 freeing all those jailed for the charge and dropping all standing charges under the article. The article is still in the law, however, and Parliament is yet to discuss amending it.
The cabinet minister’ remarks were widely criticized in the Burmese media, and led to a small protest in downtown Rangoon on Feb. 3 calling for Ohn Myint’s dismissal. A lawmaker has also raised the incident in Parliament.
Myat Ko said that Aung Lan residents had asked for permission to demonstrate on Feb. 5, but police rejected the request on Feb. 7, saying that the protest would block the main street and market.
Myat Ko said the police’s reason for not permitting for protest was “unacceptable because we were protesting peacefully and without causing any trouble.”
Aye Myint, a leader of the National League for Democracy in Aung Lan, said the protesters were only exercising their rights by demonstrating.
“We expected that we would not get the permission and the township police chief responded that the protest would not be allowed, but we continued with our plan as it is our constitutional right to gather and demonstrate our desire in accordance with Article 354 of the 2008 Constitution,” he said.
Article 354 states that “every citizen shall be at liberty in the exercise of the following rights – (b) to assembly peacefully without arms and holding procession – if not contrary to the laws, enacted for Union security, prevalence of law and order, community peace and tranquility of public order and morality.”