Well-Known Voices Add to Criticism of Letpadan Crackdown

By Nobel Zaw 12 March 2015

RANGOON — Prominent public figures on Thursday denounced a violent police crackdown on protesting students this week in Letpadan, Pegu Division, at a solidarity event in Rangoon organized by the Free Funeral Service Society (FFSS) and attended by hundreds.

Student leader Min Ko Naing from the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society; Rangoon parliamentarian Nyo Nyo Thin, FFSS founder Kyaw Thu; famous writers Sein Win (Pa D Gone) and Tharrawaddy San San Nweh; and members of the National Network for Education Reform (NNER) were among those directing the latest criticism toward the government’s forcible dispersal of the demonstration and detention of 127 activists.

At a meeting hall packed to the point that some would-be attendees were left standing outside, Rangoon Division parliament lawmaker Nyo Nyo Thin said the government should apologize to the public and students who have been advocating education reform for months.

“The government, which has vowed to be held accountable to the public, frequently [perpetrates] violence against the students and the public, and must apologize and pay its debt to the students and public,” she told an audience at times raptly silent and alternately raucous in its support of the speakers’ remarks.

About 200 student protestors seeking to complete a march from Letpadan to Rangoon were beaten with police batons on Tuesday afternoon, ending a tense weeklong standoff with authorities. Dozens were injured and 127 people were detained, at least 15 of whom were released on Thursday.

Kyaw Thu’s FFSS was at the scene of the Letpadan protest and provided ambulances for several of the students injured in the chaos.

Student leader Min Ko Naing condemned the violent crackdown on the students, and said that societal stakeholders would need to come together to face the many difficult challenges and changes in store for Burma this year.

The writer Tharyarwady San San Nwat said: “Whatever the truth be, in the face many depredations, the truth will prevail. Facing severe depredations, the students have prevailed.”

Protest singer Mun Awng performed a song composed for the student protest movement that the audience soon joined in singing. It proved an emotional rallying cry for those in attendance, with the hall growing even more crowded as the tune prompted people outside to wedge their way into the venue.

In a somber moment before the roster of speakers took the stage, attendees observed a minute of silence for students and other victims of the crackdown. Students and activists inaugurated a one-week campaign at the rally in which participants will wear stickers featuring a black background offset by a red fist and the phrase “The students are victorious.”

Ashin Sandar Dika, one of Burma’s most revered monks, sent a letter to the event that Kyaw Thu from FFSS read to the crowd.

“Like the former monk who rarely changes his behavior, this violent crackdown bears witness: Ex-dictators have not changed their behavior,” the monk wrote.