MANDALAY – Six students may face charges for leading a demonstration against a new education law in central Burma on Saturday, according to one protest leader.
Min Thwe Thit, one of the six accused of organizing the rally in Taungoo, Pegu Division, told The Irrawaddy that police warned the students that they would be apprehended and charged with violating Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Law.
“The police came to the monastery where we stayed, and they said that six of us, who they believed were the protest leaders, will be arrested for unauthorized protests,” Min Thwe Thit said.
The students were told that they would only be jailed for one day during arraignment, and that they would then be eligible for release on bail, he added. He said that the group would not relinquish themselves to the court without arrest.
“We told them that we would not accept bail, but they could arrest us. The police said that they needed to inform their superiors about the arrest, but then they never returned,” he said.
Min Thwe Thit said that the six students, who came to Taungoo for the protest, were from other parts of Burma and were soon to return home when police informed them of the pending charges.
“We waited until 10pm at the Taungoo railway station, but they didn’t show up and our train was leaving,” he said. All six of the accused students, who are members of the All Burma Federation of Students’ Unions (ABFSU), left Taungoo on Saturday night.
None of the students have yet been arrested or charged, Min Thwe Thit said.
The demonstration held in Taungoo on Saturday was the latest in a series of protests in denouncing the National Education Law, which critics have called undemocratic for its lack of consultation and apparent centralization of control over educational institutions.
The controversial legislation was signed into law in late September, causing immediate outcry from students, educational experts and professionals. A Nationwide Students Emergency Conference was held in mid-November, which resulted in the creation of a 15-member students’ movement organizing body comprising members of several established youth groups. Among them were the ABFSU, the Confederation of University Students’ Unions and the Middle Myanmar Students’ Union. Protests have since been held in several of Burma’s major cities, but thus far none of the participants have faced charges.