The government’s recent warning that politically active students may be subject to expulsion could be linked to a campaign supporting constitutional reform, legal experts and activists said.
A statement by Burma’s Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST), released on 9 June and distributed at some state-operated schools, warned that students who have been convicted on charges related to any political activities that result in “unrest” could be punished with expulsion.
Critics have claimed that the vague language of the announcement could lead to abuse by educational administrators, and suggested that the move was meant to preempt involvement in a growing campaign to support amending Article 436 of Burma’s military-drafted 2008 Constitution.
“We have some questions regarding the definition of ‘politically-related offences’. We don’t know exactly what that means,” said Sithu Aung, a technological university student. “Now it’s risky for us to participate in any activities.”
The concern is exacerbated by a handful of laws that some say have been used to punish activists, such as Section 505(b) of Burma’s penal code, which broadly criminalises any activities that could cause “fear or alarm to the public or to any section of the public whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the State or against the public tranquility.” Any court ruling related to such charges would now come with additional academic penalties.
An attorney and prominent member of the Myanmar Lawyers Network, Thein Than Oo, said that the ministry could be attempting to divert public attention from an ongoing petition campaign initiated by the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy, and activist group 88 Generation Peace and Open Society (88GPOS).
Nyan Linn, a member of 88GPOS, further argued that it could be meant to intimidate students who might otherwise have joined the movement.
“We assume that this is an attempt to scare students away from joining efforts towards constitutional change, despite their fundamental right to do so,” said Nyan Linn.