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Burma amends protest law

Burma's parliament has amended a controversial law that requires people to obtain permission for public protests and subjects violators to penalties, including prison terms.

Under changes to the Peaceful Assembly Law, the maximum penalty for those who cause unrest has been halved to one year in prison, while the penalty for those who fail to seek permission for protesting was halved to six months.

The amended version still requires people to seek permission for public protests but it has eliminated a clause from the original law saying that "authorities can reject the permission", implying protests will be allowed as long as they are peaceful.

Human rights groups have criticised the law, which was passed in December 2011 and has routinely been used to imprison land-grab victims and activists.

Activists and others responded to the amendment with calls for the whole law to be scrapped, saying it violates the constitution and people should not have to ask for permission to protest.

"Whether it is amended or not, the Peaceful Assembly Law itself contradicts Burma's constitution, which allows freedom of assembly under Section 354 of the charter," said Ko Ni, a lawyer and member of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's legal team.

Land-rights activist Win Cho, who was been charged more than 30 times under the law, said he would reserve judgement on the revision until he sees how authorities react to protesters.

"We will wait and see how the amendment affects us," said Win Cho, who was released from jail yesterday after serving a three-month sentence for a past violation. He is currently on trial for another violation, after participating in a candlelight protest against an electricity rate hike in April.

"I will know the weakness of the law only when I apply for another protest," he said.

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