As classmates from the Bush Institute’s ‘Liberty and Leadership Forum’ in Dallas celebrated their graduation yesterday, one scholar was notably absent. Burmese student activist Phyo Phyo Aung is currently languishing in prison, accused of involvement in protests in her home country.
Speaking to the press after her most recent court appearance, the general-secretary of the All-Burma Federation of Student Unions said that although she was unable to accept her graduation certificate in person in the United States, she was happy to have received messages of support and encouragement from the Bush family and the Human Freedom community.
“Their support for our work is encouraging to everyone in Burma fighting to bring about a democratic education system, which is crucial to democratic reforms in the country,” Phyo Phyo Aung said.
“I am glad to know that the global community is aware of the important situation in our country.”
In his speech to the new graduates, former US President George W Bush called on the Burmese government to release the student activist, and said her imprisonment “breaks his heart”.
“We want to honour her voice, and James, her husband,” Bush said.
“We ask the [Burmese] government to release her so her husband is be able to rejoin her. Our dream, of course, is that she can come along with James and receive the certificates that you all are receiving today.”
Phyo Phyo Aung was among 127 demonstrators who were arrested on 10 March when students gathered in the town of Letpadan protesting the National Education Law and demanding greater transparency from the government.
Earlier in June, the young woman was awarded the Citizen of Burma Award, a prize recognising individuals or organisations for volunteer social services in Burma, which was accepted on her behalf by her father.
Bush also hinted that the United States would be monitoring Burma’s elections slated for November this year, expressing his hope that the election process would be free and fair.
AFP reported on Thursday that the US State Department had voiced concern about “significant human rights problems” in Burma, particularly abuses against the country’s minority Rohingya Muslim population.
Phyo Phyo Aung has repeatedly called for an “open and transparent” trial for the almost 70 protestors who stand accused of a multitude of charges, including rioting and disturbing the peace. The trial has yet to begin.