Students, Activists Allege Violence in Rangoon Protest Crackdown

By Nobel Zaw 6 March 2015

RANGOON — After being released from custody early Friday morning, eight people detained after Thursday’s student protest in downtown Rangoon have said they were injured by police and a plainclothes mob during the subsequent crackdown.

The protesters, released at dawn, were also told by authorities that they may yet be prosecuted under Section 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Act, which prescribes sentences of up to one year for individuals found guilty of participating in an unlawful protest.

“[The police] informed us at 5:30am we would be set free,” said Myo Thant, a member of the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society, during a press conference held on Friday at the organization’s Rangoon office. “A police major from the Eastern District told me they would not seek a bond, but there may be Article 18 charges.”

About 200 students and activists gathered near Sule Pagoda 4pm on Thursday afternoon, calling on the authorities to avoid using force against a group of student protesters currently in the middle of a confrontation with police in Letpadan, Pegu Division. The group also asked the government to abide by a four-party agreement on reforms to the National Education Law and resolve any differences peacefully.

Hundreds of police officers and plainclothes agitators, distinguished by red armbands, confronted the protesters shortly after the protest began.

Zin Min Phyo, general secretary of the Student Union of Dagon University, said that the police ordered the plainclothes men to assault the protesters.

“I said, ‘don’t attack us’… then they shouted at each other to arrest us and they punched me and threw away my glasses,” he said. “I couldn’t see anything, then a group of four plainclothes men and police officers punched and hit me, pulling me to the truck.”

Three women were among those arrested, including 20-year-old student Tin May Thaw, who said she was accosted by three plainclothes men, one of whom struck her throat with his elbow, while another restrained her hands behind her back as she was led to the police truck.

“My head was banged against the frame of the truck,” Tin May Thaw said at Friday’s press conference. “I want to know how the men were allowed to do this and why the police allowed such unjust behavior towards Myanmar women.”

Tin May Thaw’s throat injuries made it difficult for her to speak during the press conference. Nu Nu Aung of the 88 Generation told reporters that Nilar Thein, a well-known women’s rights activist and fellow 88 Generation member, told reporters she had been struck in the head with police batons.

The eight people detained were taken to a building near the former office of the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation on Kanbae Road, Yankin Township rather than a local police station. They told reporters they were interrogated until 1am, but were not subjected to further violence.

State-run newspapers have reported that authorities dispersed the Sule Pagoda protest because demonstrators had not sought government permission as required by the Peaceful Assembly Law. A solidarity protest, denouncing Thursday’s crackdown, was staged by students and activists near Rangoon’s Hledan Market on Friday afternoon, which dispersed peacefully.

This morning at the ongoing Lepadan protests, police and plainclothes men arrested five student protestors who near the town market, all of whom remain in police custody. About 100 locals took to the streets to show their support for student protesters on Wednesday, and on Friday the Letpadan Police Station announced it would charge 11 of those present with a violation of the Peaceful Assembly Law.