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Around 70 education activists who were arrested in the 10 March police crackdown on protestors in Letpadan, Pegu Division arrived in court on Tuesday for their third pre-trial hearing.
Robert San Aung, defence counsel for the accused, said that government prosecutors in the hearing had proposed to move the trial to Tharawaddy where the defendants are currently being detained in prison.
“There was no examination of the actual case today, as the prosecutors proposed to relocate the hearing. The court will decide on the proposal on after Thingyan [Burmese New Year],” he said, adding that next court hearing will take place on 9 April at the Letpadan court as originally scheduled.
Prominent student activist Phyo Phyo Aung, who is among those being held in Tharwaddy prison, said that students were staunchly standing by their original cause. “We will never forget about our cause to bring amendments to the National Education Law,” she said.
“Although we are in detention, we are determined to continue our struggle until the law is amended in accordance with our demands.”
An amendment bill, drawn up in negotiations between officials and education activists last month, was approved by Burma’s upper house on Thursday 26 March. However, it fell short of the demands laid down by student leaders.
Several key requests of the student appear to have been omitted. Notably, one of the core tenets of the students’ position– that education spending should be increased to 20 percent over the next five years – was not included. Instead, the bill simply stipulated that the budget would be gradually increased over the next five years, but without specifying any figures.
The defendants at Tuesday’s hearing, who are facing five charges including unlawful assembly, rioting and disturbing the peace, were met by family members as they were brought to the court.
“The U Thein Sein government talks the talk – and he’s such a sweet talker, like honey, using words like “clean government” and “good government” – but where is that clean government? Where is that good government? Their actions are completely different from his words because he was just talking nonsense. He must be crazy,” said the mother of Thiha Win Tin, one of the student detainees.
Local residents said that the road leading to the courthouse in the town had been barricaded, with barbed wire and a heavy police presence.