RANGOON — Teachers associations in Rangoon and Mandalay have condemned Burma’s Education Ministry for the sacking of a schoolteacher who attended a commemoration earlier this month of the country’s 1988 pro-democracy uprising.
In a statement on Monday, several teachers associations criticized the ministry’s Basic Education Department in Naypyidaw, where the director of High School No. 5, a state school, ordered Soe Soe Khaing to resign for allegedly violating a school rule prohibiting teachers from involvement in politics.
“The Education Department is ignoring laws that govern civil servants,” five teachers associations –from Rangoon University, Dagon University and Mandalay University—said in the statement. “The ministry is abusing its power to punish someone they don’t like.”
Than Lwin Oo, a spokesman for a teachers association at Rangoon University’s east campus, offered an explanation of the law governing civil servants. “If someone violates the law, first you have to give a warning. Second you give a serious warning, and third you send the person who violated the law to another township or demote them,” he told The Irrawaddy.
He said the school in Naypyidaw’s Zabuthiri Township forced the resignation because Soe Soe Khaing missed five days of classes and did not ask for permission before traveling to Rangoon, where she met with members of the 88 Generation Students group. “I agree that she violated the rules in these two cases, but the punishment was too harsh—it wasn’t fair,” he said.
The teachers associations warned that the incident could tarnish the government’s widely lauded reform efforts, and they called on the Education Ministry to provide an explanation.
“We will wait 15 days for their explanation. If they do not respond, we will go talk to the ILO [the International Labor Organization] and the UN human rights commission,” said Than Lwin Oo.
School authorities informed 48-year-old Soe Soe Khaing of her dismissal on Aug. 15 and offered a small severance pension.
Despite democratic political reforms that have been praised by many over the last two years, remnants of the former authoritarian regime persist, according to Soe Soe Khaing, who was a student involved in the pro-democracy protests that swept the nation in 1988.
“They have closely watched wherever I go, and what I do,” she told The Irrawaddy last week. “I had to use another person’s identity card to attend the ’88 anniversary in Mandalay.”
Burma’s political activists in Rangoon, Mandalay and other parts of the country this month celebrated the Silver Jubilee of the historic popular uprising on Aug. 8, 1988, when hundreds of thousands of protestors took to the streets demanding an end to the military dictatorship of Gen Ne Win. Widely known as the “88 Uprising,” the nationwide pro-democracy movement drew hundreds of thousands of Burmese from all walks of life to join a protest in the former capital Rangoon.