Rights body urges action against police over student crackdown

14 September 2015
Rights body urges action against police over student crackdown
Student protesters and Buddhist monks jostle with police at barricades set up by police at the students protest site in Letpadan, Bago division, about 145 kilometres north of Yangon, Myanmar, 10 March 2015. Photo: Nyein Chan Naing/EPA

Myanmar's national human rights body has urged the government to take legal action against police who beat up protesters at an education reform rally, as dozens of activists remain detained over a case that has sparked international alarm. 
The rare call from the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) in the former junta-run nation on September 11 comes after its investigation into the March student-led protest. 
Violent scenes flared at the rally in Letpadan town, some 140 kilometres (90 miles) north of Yangon, with baton-wielding riot police arresting more than 100 activists in one of the most concerted challenges to reformist President U Thein Sein's government. 
"Making arrests through beatings goes against official police procedures," the MNHRC said in a statement, adding it had documented "injuries to the head and face of some protesters".  
"Legal action must be taken against police force members who didn't follow the correct procedures," the body said.
It added that activists who threw stones at police officers or destroyed their temporary tents and barricades should also face legal action. 
The crackdown on the March protest came as scores marched to meet fellow activists in Yangon as they called for changes to the country's education laws including decentralising the school system, allowing student unions and teaching in ethnic-minority languages. 
In June Myanmar's parliament approved amendments to a  controversial bill, including approving student unions but without adopting the central activist demand on decentralisation. 
On Saturday Hla Myo Myint, one of eight lawyers representing the protesters currently on trial, said 54 were still being detained in central Tharrawaddy prison. 
A total of 81 activists are facing trial with a few dozen granted bail. 
"We will continue representing them until they are freed," the lawyer said. 
In its statement Friday the MNHRC also urged bail for four university students jailed three months ago in Mandalay over a graffiti campaign demanding the release of the Letpadan protesters. 
Students have long been at the forefront of political action in Myanmar, where campaigning is under way for crucial November 8 elections, including during mass 1988 rallies which were brutally repressed by the military. 
The crackdown on the March protest raised fears of a return to junta-era tactics in Myanmar which has undergone a vast slew of reforms since outright junta rule was lifted in 2011.