A bid by journalists and activists in Mandalay for permission to protest against the detention of Eleven Daily reporter Naw Khine Khine Aye Cho was rejected by local police on Sunday.
The reporter, who writes under the pen-name Ma Khine, was sentenced in mid-December by Karenni state’s Loikaw township court to three months in prison on charges of trespassing, criminal defamation and using obscene language. The charges were filed by a local lawyer who was upset by the journalist during an interview.
Min Din, chief editor of Mandalay Khit (Mandalay Era) weekly news journal, organised the protest, planned for 7 January in Aungmyay Tharzan township. Min Din said that the township police have officially denied permission for the protest.
“The local authorities said permission was denied because the application states that the objective was to highlight the divergence of the judicial sector. They said that the judicial system is free and transparent, as the defendant can file an appeal at a higher level court against the verdict, and the government has been taking action against corrupt judges,” said Min Din.
“Lastly,” he added, “they said the protest could not be permitted because it was planned for a busy, public location.”
He added that the organisers expressly planned for the protest to be held between 10am and 12 noon on Tuesday, to avoid busy school and office hours. Organisers expected around 200 participants to convene on the south side of the Mandalay moat.
An official at Aungmyay Tharzan police station confirmed that the permit was denied.
“We denied permission because the protest was planned on a busy and crowded road,” said the official.
Meanwhile, journalists in Rangoon were granted permission for a similar protest denouncing the sentence of Ma Khine.
Lawyer and legal expert Aung Thein argued that citizens of Burma have a constitutional right to protest, and criticised the authorities for bending existing laws to prevent freedom of assembly.
“Peaceful assembly and procession is a right provided to the people by the constitution. Restricting that right may make our country’s path to democracy seem dubious,” said Aung Thein.