One year after police violently dispersed largely peaceful student protests in Myanmar, the authorities continue their relentless crackdown on student activists and anyone associated with their movement, Amnesty International (AI) said in a statement on 10 March.
According to the statement, in the past two months, at least eight student union leaders, protesters and supporters have been arrested or face new charges. Scores of others remain in detention while on trial facing politically motivated charges because of their involvement in largely peaceful student protests, which ended in a violent police crackdown in the town of Letpadan, Bago Region, on 10 March 2015.
Amnesty International urged the Myanmar authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all student protesters and their supporters solely detained for their peaceful activities related to the student protests. In addition, the organisation called on the Myanmar authorities to also drop all charges pending against those individuals still detained as well as those released on bail.
The statement continues, “On 24 February 2016, 88 Generation Peace and Open Society member, and former prisoner of conscience, Nilar Thein was arrested and charged with protesting without prior permission under Section 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Act for her role in a peaceful protest in Yangon on 15 February 2015. The demonstration was in support of protesting students. It was not until almost a year later, on 11 February 2016 that the authorities issued a warrant for her arrest. She is currently detained in Yangon’s Insein prison, having chosen not to submit a request for bail.
Also in February, the authorities filed multiple additional charges against student union leaders Phyoe Phyoe Aung, Lin Htet Naing and Nandar Sitt Aung for participating in unauthorized peaceful protests against the National Education Law at the end of 2014 and early 2015. The three are already in detention. If convicted they already face years of imprisonment for their role in organizing other protests on 10 March 2015 in the cities of Letpadan and Yangon.
In January 2016, four students who led a peaceful demonstration in Mandalay Region to mark one year since the start of large scale student marches against the National Education Law were also charged under Section 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Act.
The recent arrests and charges brought against student leaders, protesters and supporters are a worrying reminder that police in Myanmar can, and will, use repressive laws to arrest, detain and prosecute peaceful activists for political purposes. Although a new government is due to come to power at the beginning of April, under Myanmar’s 2008 Constitution control of the Myanmar Police Force and the administration of justice will remain under the power of the military.
A year after their arrest, 45 student protesters remain in detention in Tharawaddy prison while their trial is ongoing. They face years of imprisonment for their participation in the Letpadan protest on 10 March 2015. In addition, six student union members who protested against the crackdown later that day in Yangon continue to face charges for their role in the protest. Three of them are detained in Yangon’s Insein prison. Two more student activists are being detained in Myingyan prison in Mandalay Region, while their hearings are ongoing.
Their prolonged detention is in violation of their right to personal liberty and to be tried without undue delay, a key component of the right to a fair trial, which is enshrined in Article 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).”