THARRAWADDY, Pegu Division — Student activists who remain behind bars here after a brutal police crackdown on their protest against Burma’s National Education Law have been offered the opportunity to vote in advance of the Nov. 8 general election.
The students and their supporters, who stood trial on Tuesday, said authorities had asked at a previous hearing whether they were interested in casting an advanced vote.
“After the trial last week, authorities asked how many of us wanted to cast an advanced vote, and I registered my name,” said Min Thway Thit, one of the detained student leaders. “[Authorities] said we can cast a vote [for candidates running] in our constituencies or in Tharrawaddy [Township constituency].”
Not all of the detained students are taking the offer, however.
“Some do not want to cast an advanced vote,” Min Thway Thit added. “They said they do not trust them [authorities]. They are concerned that their votes might be manipulated.”
The prominent student leader Phyoe Phyoe Aung is among those opting to sit out the landmark election.
“I accept that people have to cast a vote for change. But personally, I think nothing would happen even if I vote, as long as significant changes have not been made to the 2008 Constitution,” Phyoe Phyoe Aung told The Irrawaddy, adding that she was concerned about “voting irregularities” if she were to cast a ballot.
Following a crackdown on demonstrators on March 10 at neighboring Letpadan Township, police arrested 127 student protestors and their supporters. More than 60, including Min Thway Thit, Phyoe Phyoe Aung and another student leader, Nanda Sit Aung, remain in police custody pending the outcome of their trial.
The students have been charged with a variety of offenses under Burma’s Penal Code and the Peaceful Assembly Law.
Township and district courts have refused to accept some evidence submitted by the students in a countersuit alleging police misconduct, leading their lawyers to file the case with the Pegu Division Court, which has agreed to hear it.
The students have been waiting for more than a month for that court to take up the case as their dossiers are transferred to the divisional capital in Pegu Township.
The Tharrawaddy District Court did not take testimony from the prosecution or defense at Tuesday’s hearing for the trial against the students, but set an Oct. 20 date for their next court appearance.
Meanwhile, Aung Hmine Hsan, a member of All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU), sent a letter to President Thein Sein following a hearing on Oct. 6, saying he would stage a prison hunger strike if political prisoners nationwide were not released by Thursday of this week.
At Tuesday’s trial, Aung Hmine Hsan said he intended to go through with the plan because he had so far seen no response.
“If there is still no response beyond the deadline of Oct. 15, I will start my action. I can’t reveal the details right now, but I think I will be able to tell the details at the trial next week,” Aung Hmine Hsan told The Irrawaddy.
He said he would stage the hunger strike of his own volition and not under the direction of the ABFSU, though some students had indicated that they would like to join him.
Translated by Thet Ko Ko.