Leaders of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) were told on Wednesday to register as an official association by the Rangoon authorities or potentially face imprisonment.
However, prominent members of the umbrella body which represents Burmese student organizations denied this step was necessary as it has no intention to stand for election.
“Dr. Than Aung of the Rangoon Division Administrative Office told us to register the Student Union [ABFSU] because they do not see us as a registered party at the Election Commission,” Phyo Phyo Aung, the secretary of the ABFSU organizing committee, told The Irrawaddy.
“They told us how to register under section two of the Registration Act (6/88) as well as the punishments if the union is not registered,” she added.
But the organizing committee’s members denied that it needs to register as they consider themselves neither a political party nor a social organization. According to the Unlawful Association Act, persons forming illegal organization can be sentenced to five years imprisonment while activists can get three years.
Phyo Phyo Aung argued that they could only decide with the will of all students throughout the whole nation and that “the nationwide student conference will need to agree to this,” which the authorities could not accept.
Than Aung, along with various provincial and township authorities, said that ABFSU’s current existence is “unlawful” under existing regulations, and therefore the union must “register or postpone its activities” until alternative legislation is enacted by Parliament.
“Basically they were warning us even though they said they just ‘informing’ us about the rules,” said Phyo Phyo Aung.
The organizing committee’s nine members were summoned by the Rangoon Administrative Department office on Monday for the meeting on Wednesday. It is the second occasion they have been reprimanded recently after members were also warned to register their O-Way student journal at the Press Censorship Board in April.
The ABFSU, an original hub of the students’ political movement since British colonial rule, has been at the center of major events throughout Burmese history. Burmese independence hero Aung San, the father of current opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, first formed a precursor union in 1931.
Prominent members of the ABFSU including Min Ko Naing were arrested in August 2007 for organizing peaceful demonstrations during the monk-led Saffron Revolution.
Rangoon’s original Student Union Building was demolished on July 6, 1962, by dictator Ne Win after protests against his coup a few months previously. The ABFSU plans to commemorate the building’s demise on its 50th anniversary next month.