burma ends decades-old ban on public gatherings of more than five people

by Tim Phillips

In 1988, a military junta took power in Burma after crushing protests. On the day the junta took over, it issued an order banning public gatherings of more than five people. State media reported today that Burma’s new government has ended that 25-year-old ban. According to an Associated Press article,

The order had been applied selectively as a tool to crush dissent against the military regimes that held sway until the elected government of President Thein Sein took office in 2011. … The junta used many catch-all or vaguely defined orders and laws as a means of suppressing dissent, and courts generally handed out stiff sentences, sending thousands of political prisoners into jails around the country. Most have been freed under amnesties promulgated by Thein Sein.

Unjust laws continue to exist. As Henry David Thoreau asked in On Resistance to Civil Government (1849), “shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once?” Susan B. Anthony answered Thoreau’s question on July 3, 1873, after a judge found her guilty of attempting to vote:

Does your honor suppose that we obeyed the infamous fugitive slave law which forbade to give a cup of cold water to a slave fleeing from his master? I tell you we did not obey it; we fed him and clothed him, and sent him on his way to Canada. So shall we trample all unjust laws under foot.

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