RANGOON — Letpadan Township Court on Thursday transferred the legal case against 70 detained students to a court near Tharawaddy Prison, while police said that four students were facing additional criminal charges brought by two Rangoon police stations.
The students, who have been detained since a brutal police crackdown on an education reform demonstration on March 10, were brought to Pegu Division’s Letpadan Court to be informed of the transfer of their case to Tharawaddy Township Court, located near the prison where they are being held.
“They say the court case is being moved for security [reasons],” said Robert San Aung, who leads the Myanmar Lawyers’ Network team that is providing counsel to the students.
He said he believed the court would not begin hearing the charges against the students until police have detained three more student activists—Kyaw Ko Ko, Myat Thu Aung and Ye Yint Kyaw—who remain at large
The next hearing at Tharawaddy Court is tentatively scheduled for April 30. Last month, the court released 11 defendants on bail as they were Letpadan residents who had sought to coordinate logistics around the student protest.
The defendants face various charges including unlawful assembly, rioting, incitement and causing harm to a public servant. Some of the charges carry penalties of up to three years under articles 143, 145, 147, 332 and 505 (b) of Burma’s Penal Code.
Amnesty International in a statement on Thursday called for the immediate and unconditional release of the students, some of who could face prison terms of up to nine years and six months because of the combined charges being brought against them.
“A raft of politically motivated charges filed against student protesters over the past month—in addition to surveillance and harassment of human rights defenders and lawyers suspected of supporting the students—is a blatant attempt to intimidate and punish those connected with the student protests,” the group said, adding that “a wider crackdown on freedom expression” is taking place in Burma.
Police officers at Rangoon’s Pabedan and Bothathaung townships told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that their respective stations were bringing additional charges against four students for their involvement in unauthorized education reform protests in the city in February.
Three of the students, Phyo Dana, Phyo Phyo Aung, Nanda Sitt Aung, are being detained in Tharawaddy Prison. The fourth, Lin Htet Naing, who is the husband of Phyo Phyo Aung, is at large and is already being sought by Rangoon’s Kamayut Township police for an unauthorized protest.
Botahtaung Police Station’s Maj. Sein Wai said police there wanted to charge Phyo Phyo Aung, Nanda Sitt Aung and Lin Htet Naing at Bothathaung Court with violating the Peaceful Assembly Law’s Article 18, which sets out a maximum punishment of six months in prison.
Phyo Dhana told reporters while he being led into the Letpadan Court building that he was facing charges under Article 18 in Pabedan Township. “I was told I will face a new charge for protesting,” he said, adding that the charges being brought against him and other students are “non-sense.”
“The charges are pressed in whatever way the plaintiff wants—that should not happen if we are truly on our way to being a democracy,” he said.
Dozens of family members and friends of the detained showed up at the court house in order to briefly speak with their loved ones outside the building. Some said they were concerned over the well-being of the defendants because of a lack of sanitation and hygiene, and poor medical treatment in prison, while prisoners cannot use mosquito nets.
Khin Moe Moe, a lawyer of some of defendants, said, “The youths are healthy but have mosquito bites, there are lots of insects… Also the water is not clean; it’s got too much calcium and gives them skin rash.”