Anniversary of violent student protest crackdown at Latpadan

Anniversary of violent student protest crackdown at Latpadan

Away from the presidential nomination spotlight, 10 March also marks the one-year anniversary of the violent police crackdown on student protestors in Latpadan.

Student activists and journalists peacefully protested against the National Education Law, but the demonstration soon became violent when they were met by police. 127 activists were arrested in Letpadan, a township north of Rangoon.

Police blocked the march before brutally beating unarmed protesters with batons on their heads and bodies.

Students were protesting against the changes made by the government, that they said restricted their academic freedoms. Despite a range of state education and student unions submitting possible amendments, the government refused to listen.

The Letpadan protest erupted just days after President Barack Obama commemorated the 1988 uprising, a movement crushed by the then-ruling military junta and the subsequent imprisonment of hundreds of political activists.

One year on, 45 student protestors still remain behind bars in Tharawaddy prison, with six student union members in Rangoon’s Insein prison. Two more student activists are detained in Myingyan prison in Mandalay Region, while their hearings continue.

International and local human rights groups have called for an independent investigation but authorities have ignored the pleas.

On 11 September last year, the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) issued a statement calling for police officers responsible for the use of excessive force at Letpadan to be disciplined. This submission has so far not been acted upon.

Under Article 18 of The Right to Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Act, a maximum sentence of one year imprisonment or a fine of 30,000 kyat (US$30) can be imposed on any persons found guilty of illegal protest.

Pressure is mounting on the National League for Democracy to eliminate Article 18 when they officially assume office on 1 April. This would end the violation of the human right to freedom of expression, so that charges can be overturned and political prisoners immediately freed.

Human rights group, Fortify Rights, has compiled an overwhelming count of evidence from some 500 photographs and 40 videos, and say this evidence demands the police are held accountable for their brutal handling of the unarmed students.

This crackdown is ongoing and reveals the shallow depth of human rights reform in Burma,” said Fortify Rights Matthew Smith.

A statement released today by Amnesty International confirms that the relentless crackdown has continued this year with four students charged after they led a peaceful demonstration in the Mandalay region in January to mark the anniversary.

Students from the University Student Union marked the anniversary by gathering in front of the city hall in Rangoon on Saturday.

One student from the Dagon University Student Union, Zin Min Phyo renewed calls for the government to act.

We want to request the new parliament to reconsider and release the political prisoners,” she told MITV.

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