MANDALAY — A court in Mandalay’s Amarapura Township sentenced four student protesters to several months in prison on Friday for charges related to anti-government graffiti on the grounds of Yadanabon University.
Naing Ye Wai, Aung San Oo, Jit Tu, and Nyan Lin Htet, were sentenced under articles 143, 147, and 505(b) of Burma’s penal code for having spray-painted messages critical of the government on university property in July.
The students’ messages demanded that the quasi-civilian government, which came to power in 2011, step down, release students jailed for their involvement in the education reform movement, and amend article 436 of the constitution, which effectively grants the military veto power over constitutional change.
The four students had also been arrested in March of this year after police brutally cracked down on a protest in Letpadan, Bago Division, against a new National Education Law, but they were released after a few weeks because they had to sit their university exams.
Burma’s penal code metes out punishment to persons who are present when an offence is committed, who are members of an unlawful assembly or riot, or who cause fear or public alarm that may provoke actions against the state.
All four students had initially been sentenced to one year in prison under Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Law, but the court reduced this sentence to three months because they had already spent several months in detention.
Naing Ye Wai, however, who was president of Yadanabon’s student union, will serve an additional three months related to another case and faces a total of six months in prison.
Immediately after the court’s decision, the students were escorted to Mandalay Oh Bo prison, where they will serve out their terms.
“We feel nothing about this and will not submit an appeal to a higher court. If the quasi-civilian government is still in power, there will be many cases like this. We simply don’t want this kind of government in a democratic country,” said Naing Ye Wai, before he was taken to prison.
Calling the decision “ridiculous,” Thein Than Oo, the students’ lawyer, remarked that the sentence was still lighter than expected due to pressure from the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission.
Nonetheless, the lawyer said that “charging students and activists for peaceful assembly threatens freedom of speech and the development of democracy in Burma.”