Beaten, Jailed, Bailed: Letpadan Crackdown Victim’s Harrowing Ordeal

By May Sitt Paing 19 May 2015

RANGOON — The photo of Aung Min Khaing desperately fleeing a dozen baton-wielding police officers has become the defining image of the crackdown on student protesters in Letpadan.

The 16-year-old student was released on bail from Thayawady Prison last week after more than two months detention. He is still facing trial on five charges under the Penal Code’s unlawful assembly provisions, with a maximum sentence of 7.5 years if he is convicted.

Though his parents are happy that he has been released, Aung Min Khaing is worried for his friends—scores of whom are still behind bars, facing the prospect of long prison terms—and he remains haunted by the police assault of March 10.

“When stones began be thrown, a monk and I were on a car,” he told The Irrawaddy. “Then police saw us and they dragged me out of the car, they also pulled the monk out of the car and beat him. As soon as I was out, they beat me with batons. They pushed and beat me from behind and I think they targeted my head and hands. At that time, a policeman tore off my longyi. I tried to pull it back, but I couldn’t.”

Before he joined the abortive student march from Mandalay to Rangoon, organized to urge the government into changing the contentious National Education Law, Aung Min Khaing was an 11th grader at the No. 3 Basic Education High School in the Sagaing Division town of Shwebo. He served as chairman of the school’s student union and was a committed member of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions, though his family had no prior history of political activism.

“Teachers threatened me because I was involved in these activities,” he said. “They said I would be kicked out of the school or arrested and imprisoned if I engaged in politics. There are between 30 and 40 students in our school who were interested in the protest against the Education Law, though some students could not afford to take part actively. I joined because I agreed that student unions at basic education schools should be formed freely and the education budget needed to be increased.”

While in Thaywady Prison, the detained protesters were given medical checkups. Aung Min Khaing, still bruised from the police assault on protest camp, was given the all clear. He told The Irrawaddy he is still suffering from the injuries he sustained in March.

“I was not able to check their medical records,” he said. “I had X-rays on my head and arms which they said showed I was fine. But I feel dizzy when I stand up or sit down or when the weather changes.”

Far from being cowed, the events of Letpadan and his imprisonment have left Aung Min Khaing more strident in his outlook.

“I don’t trust the government at all,” he said. “They don’t pay heed to people. They are only taking care of cronies and capitalists. The farmers are landless because their properties are confiscated. The government put students into prison. The cronies are the only people the government doesn’t beat. I have are landless and their lands got confiscated. (The government) put students into prison. Cronies are the only people which the government does not beat.”