Jailed student activists standing trial for taking part in education reform protests have slammed the head of Burma’s permanent mission to the United Nations for describing them as mere criminals.
Maung Wai, Burma’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, made the remark during Burma’s Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council last month. Maung Wai insisted that activists detained during last years’ student protests, which ended with a brutal police crackdown, were not political prisoners but criminals.
Phyo Phyo Aung, the currently detained secretary of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU), said Maung Wai should be ashamed of himself for making the claim.
“It was actually the government that broke its promise not to detain the protestors. They previously signed an agreement on that and it was witnessed by parliament representatives, and also reported in state-run and independent media,” she said.
“The real criminal is the government. We are not criminal offenders – they are the ones who detained us unjustly and as a leading member of the government, [Maung Wai] should be ashamed of what he said.”
Nanda Sitt Aung, another prominent education activist facing multiple charges, agreed that the government broke a pledge.
“The protestors were guaranteed earlier in the day by the regional border and security affairs minister that there would be no violence so they came out of the monastery and then found themselves surrounded by the police,” Nanda Sitt Aung said.
“They also promised not to prosecute the protestors, but in the end they did. It was the Home Affairs Ministry that carried out the crackdown, but neither the government nor parliament interfered.”
The ABFSU chairman Kyaw Ko Ko, who was detained in November 2015 for his part in the protests, told DVB: “None of the political prisoners nowadays worked for their own personal interest. They are behind bars now for try to expose injustice.
“The activists who called for justice for the murder of farmer Daw Khin Win in Letpadaung are now in jail. The protestors who called for justice in the rape and murder of the two volunteer teachers in Kachin State are now also standing trial.”
Dozens of activists across the nation are being prosecuted on multiple charges, including several cases under Article 18 of the Penal Code and the Peaceful Assembly and Procession Law, which bans staging protests without official permission.