Students Freed After Letpadan Could Face Trial for Prior Protests

By Zarni Mann 2 April 2015

MANDALAY – Dozens of student activists in central Burma’s Mandalay Division may face charges for unlawful assembly, after being released from detention following a recent crackdown on a demonstration in Letpadan.

Students at Yadanabon University in Amarapura and the Government Technical College in Myinchan said police had given letters to teachers and school authorities to deliver to those who may face charges.

Police in Amarapura and Myinchan declined to comment.

The students at both schools said that the notices informed them that they would face charges under Article 18, a controversial provision in Burma’s Peaceful Assembly Law that requires prior permission for gatherings.

The charges relate to a number of demonstrations held before, concurrent with and after a core group of activists left Mandalay with the intention of marching to Rangoon.

The demonstrations, which were held in opposition to a new National Education Law that students and educators view as restrictive and undemocratic, were brutally dismantled by police in Letpadan, Pegu Division, in early March.

Of the 127 people who were initially jailed after the crackdown, dozens were released in the weeks that followed. Many returned home to continue their coursework and take exams, believing that they would not be brought to trial.

“We don’t understand. Since some of us were freed after the Letpadan crackdown, our understanding was that [the police] wouldn’t sue us anymore. This shows that the government and the authorities cannot be trusted,” said Yadanabon student Nai Ye Wai, speaking to The Irrawaddy after visiting the police station on Thursday.

“The police said 37 students and me will have to face trial,” he said. “Soon.”

One of about 10 students facing charges in Myinchan, Han Phyo Wai said the move was likely meant to spook other students and prevent further protests.

“We believe this is meant to frighten other students from participating in or organizing protests and demonstrations in the future. Since the news spread in our school, many students are avoiding us and dare not talk to us,” Han Phyo Wai said.

Five people accused of participating in and supporting a demonstration on March 27 are still being detained in Myinchan, while reports have surfaced that other supporters are now being pursued by police.

Thant Zin, who participated in the students’ march to Rangoon, was also arrested after last week’s demonstration and is still in jail, where he and the other detainees are denied access to counsel and family visits, according to a relative.