More than 50 factory workers and labour rights protesters have been charged after scuffles broke out when they were blocked from marching into the capital, police said on Thursday.
The arrests come as parliament, dominated by members of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), debates possible changes to the laws on public demonstrations which allow police to clamp down on such protests.
The workers were marching from their wood-processing factory in Sagaing Division in the northwest towards the capital Naypyidaw, a distance of some 400 km, demanding union recognition and that fired workers be re-hired.
After many days on the road, they were stopped short by police on Wednesday.
“It’s okay to stage protests for their rights in their respective region but we can’t afford to let them protest in Naypyidaw area, which is a special area under the president,” police colonel Zaw Khin Aung said.
Photos showed police surrounding the protesters before officers began hauling people away.
A police officer said that of 71 protesters detained, 51 had been charged and taken to Yamethin Prison near the capital after they refused to be split up from fellow demonstrators.
An official from the General Administration Department of Tatkon Township, near Naypyidaw, confirmed the charges.
Police said earlier in the day only around 10 protest leaders and “instigators” would be charged, hoping to persuade others to abandon their cause and return home.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD, whose ranks are filled with former political prisoners, dissidents and activists, has freed scores of political prisoners since taking power in April.
But rights groups such as Amnesty International say the proposed changes do not go far enough to protect peaceful protesters.
“As it stands, the draft retains restrictions to the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly which breach international human rights law,” Amnesty said in a statement.