Police Crack Down on Student Protests, Harass Irrawaddy Photographer

By The Irrawaddy 6 March 2015

RANGOON — Police and plainclothes men arrested five student demonstrators and attempted to detain a photojournalist at a protest site in Letpadan, Pegu Division, on Friday morning.

The Irrawaddy staff photographer Sai Zaw was among a group of journalists documenting a small demonstration organized by five students near a market in the central Burma town at around 9:30am when police and others of unknown affiliation came to disperse the crowd.

Sai Zaw said a plainclothes man shouted instructions to “get them all,” before police attempted to detain him.

“A guy in plainclothes ordered ‘get them all.’ When I tried to record him on camera, he saw me and shouted, ‘arrest him too!’ Police grabbed me from behind and tried to take me to a truck,” said Sai Zaw.

Other journalists, he said, physically grabbed him and removed him from police custody. The journalists are now in a designated media corner at a main protest camp near the Aung Myay Baik Mann monastery.

Five students, four men and one woman, are still in police custody.

The Letpadan demonstrators are the remaining core of a protest movement that began in November 2014 in opposition to a new National Education Law. The group began a 400-mile march from Mandalay to Rangoon on Jan. 20.

While the demonstrators have won some concessions from government, including having an amended bill submitted to parliament for consideration, they have vowed to continue the movement despite several warnings from the government.

After police prevented the protesters from marching toward Rangoon from Letpadan earlier this week, supporters mobilized in various other parts of the country.

On Thursday, police and plainclothes men wearing red arm-bands reading “duty” cracked down on demonstrators in downtown Rangoon, leaving several injured and arresting about 8 people including well-known women’s rights activist Nilar Thein.

Those arrested in Rangoon on Thursday were released from custody on Friday morning.