University students fear surveillance

Burma’s technology minister has visited a university in western Burma where around 400 students recently ended a protest against poor transport facilities, prompting participants to question whether they are now being monitored.

U Thaung met with staff yesterday at the Government Technological College in Sittwe, Arakan state, but details of what was discussed remain unclear. Students were told not to leave the campus until after 4pm.

One student told DVB that it was unusual to hold people at the university throughout the day: it is customary in Burma for students and professionals to lunch at home. He said that authorities had been investigating the students since they marched the 12 miles from the university to downtown Sittwe on 5 July.

“They were collecting information on those who led the protest and details of where they live,” he said. The majority of students in Sittwe live in hostels, and unidentified persons had reportedly visited hostels and collected names of students and their parents, and details on subjects they are studying.

Sittwe authorities however acceded to the protestors’ demands to increase the number of buses ferrying students around the town, although security on the streets remained tight.

The Burmese government has a low tolerance for any form of civil disobedience, and regularly imprisons protestors and activists.

Students said they were disappointed that authorities were trying to arrest them for demanding more convenient transport. The student who spoke to DVB said the responsibility for the matter lies with the transportation authority, the state-run All Buslines Control Committee (ABCC).

“We told the head of the university to urge the ABCC [to make transport more convenient]. We also demanded that at the Township Peace and Development Council [during the protest],” he said.

“They just simply ignored it. There are a lot of buses at Rangoon and Hmawbi [university] but here, the buses are so rare. We want the ABCC to seriously look at this – not only just for this year, but also for the coming years.”

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