Rangoon Police Ban Student Meeting on Controversial Education Law

By Yen Saning 5 November 2014

RANGOON — Police in Rangoon’s Mayangone Township have ordered student unions to postpone a large meeting during which students had planned to discuss how to demand changes to the controversial Education Law, a union representative said on Wednesday.

The Nationwide Students’ Emergency Meeting had been called by the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABSFU) and the Confederation of University Student Unions (CUSU), and was scheduled to take place in the meeting hall of the Myanmar Christian Fellowship of the Blind in Mayangone Township on Nov. 12-13.

Ye Yint Kyaw, a spokesperson for the event, told The Irrawaddy that Mayangone Police Station had informed the unions that the meeting was not allowed and would have to be postponed, ostensibly because it coincides with the Association of Southeast Asian (Asean) and East Asia summits held in Naypyidaw. US President Obama will attend the latter regional meeting and is also expected to visit Rangoon.

“Mayangone local authorities came to the [Myanmar Christian Fellowship of the Blind] office and said that they cannot allow the meeting there as planned,” Ye Yint Kyaw said.

“If the meeting is to be held, permission must be requested,” he said. “If a permission request is submitted, it can only be allowed at the end of the month, not on 12 and 13 [November] because there is an Asean meeting.”

Ye Yint Kyaw said the student unions had now decided to hold the meeting at a different venue in order not to cause problems for the Myanmar Christian Fellowship of the Blind.

“We will announce the new location in the morning on November 10. Otherwise, they [police] might come to exert pressure at the new place. Then we might have to think about finding another location and no work could get done,” he said.

Phyo Phyo Aung, general secretary of the ABSFU Central Executive Committee, said it was common for police and authorities to pressure student unions whenever they organize meetings and other public events, even though by law organizers of an indoors gathering are not required to obtain prior government permission.

The decision of the Mayangone police, she said, “is not a surprise as we have faced it so many times. Whatever pressure there is, we will successfully complete what we have to do.

“They are just pressuring with the intention to stop students’ meetings—I think it has nothing to do with the Asean summit,” she said. “We are still facing a situation where the current government tries to disturb or ban students’ gatherings or movements.”

The ABSFU and CUSU are expecting between 300 and 500 participants at the Nationwide Students’ Emergency Meeting and have invited education experts and members of their unions from across Burma, while all students are also welcome to attend.

The meeting will focus on amending the Education Law, which was passed by Parliament in late September despite widespread criticism. Further “sectoral laws” are due to be drafted to stipulate specific reforms for higher education, basic education and vocational teaching.

Ye Yint Kyaw said education experts of the National Network for Education Reform (NNER) would speak on the first day of the meeting to outline their concerns over the Education Law and on the second day the students would come up with a list of demanded amendments. A committee will be set up to determine how best to pressure the government over these demands.

Students’ and teachers’ organizations have previously vowed to continue opposing the law and have said they are considering large-scale protests.

In recent months, the teachers’ and students’ organizations and the NNER, backed by a coalition of 200 civil society groups, have fiercely opposed the Education Law. NNER includes the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society, the Thinking Classroom Foundation, Buddhists monks, ethnic education groups and Christian churches.

There have been a range of complaints about the law, chief among them criticism that it fails to guarantee independence for higher education institutions and would perpetuate military regime-style controls on universities and colleges through the formation of a “National Education Commission” and a “Higher Education Coordinating Committee.”

Under previous decades of military rule, Burma’s education suffered due to a lack of funding and strict junta controls, leading to a demise of the education system, once considered among the best in Asia.