MANDALAY — Student activists in Mandalay demonstrated on Wednesday to mark the one-year anniversary of the beginning of a protest march that would be violently dispersed by Burmese authorities 50 days later, with commemorators calling for the release of all political prisoners, including dozens detained following the police crackdown.
About 50 university students from the Mandalay Student Union marched the streets of Mandalay in defiance of local authorities who initially sought to prohibit the demonstration, reaching the entrance of Mandalay University before dispersing peacefully.
“We want to urge the government to release all of our friends from Thayawady Prison, as well as the other political prisoners,” said the protesting students, referring to the penitentiary in Thayawady Township, Pegu Division, where students and their supporters arrested on March 10 in neighboring Letpadan are being held while they stand trial.
Since Wednesday’s protestors did not seek permission as required under Burma’s Peaceful Assembly Law, local authorities and police officials attempted to stop them, but eventually reached agreement to allow the students to march to the university.
“The police and the authorities said our protest is unlawful and we could face charges. We are not afraid to face it, because we believe we are doing the right thing,” said one student protester.
On Jan. 20 of last year, students and other education reform advocates led by the All Burma Federation of Student Unions embarked on a 400-mile march from Mandalay to Rangoon, in protest of a controversial National Education Law passed in September 2014.
The column of protestors made it all the way to Letpadan in Pegu Division, about 70 miles northwest of Rangoon, where they were met with a police blockade. Days of negotiations failed to break the stalemate and on March 10, police moved in with batons in a violent show of force condemned at home and abroad.
More than 100 students were initially detained for their involvement, with over 50 still on trial facing a variety of charges that human rights advocates criticize as illegitimate.