Student activists gathered at Rangoon University on Tuesday, solemn in their remembrance for past campaigners.
On 7 July 1962, students at Burma’s largest university staged a peaceful rally to protest the institution’s lacklustre education standards and unfair university regulations imposed by then President Ne Win.
The protest was violently suppressed by the newly installed military junta, resulting in the deaths of more than 100 demonstrators.
The next day the army blew up the students union building, where many were taking refuge. The day would go down in history as the 7 July Students Massacre.
On Tuesday, police blocked activists from entry onto the University grounds.
“We have to stop you and ask you to disperse. You can’t hold a commemoration with a large crowd. I don’t know what else to say,” said Kamaryut township Police Superintendent Zaw Win.
But those who had come were determined to lay their wreaths upon the foundations of the old student union building.
An inscribed stone now stands where authorities destroyed the union headquarters by dynamite on the day following the massacre fifty-three years ago.
“We just want to go to the site of the student union building. We will not cause a traffic jam, because we will take the pavement,” All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) member Shein Yazar Tun told the policeman.
“We plan to lay wreaths, salute the monument, and then we’ll be on our way!”
Police eventually allowed the students inside, after negotiations with the university’s rector.
The group, numbering about 30, then stood in a moment of silence to remember those killed just over half a century ago.
Having paid their respects, student unionists took the opportunity to demand the release of activists jailed after this year’s education reform protests. More than seventy remain in detention, eight months after the eruption of public outcry regarding the enacting of the National Education Law.
Those dissidents are now locked up in three different facilities: Pegu Division’s Thayarwaddy Prison, Mandalay’s Myingyan Prison and Rangoon’s Insein Prison.
As students posed with their fighting peacock flags, one participant read out a pre-prepared statement.
“The ABFSU, which has passed on its legacy to new generations over the past 79 years, vows in the name of the student martyrs who gave us this 7 July spirit, to continue our struggle to the end, hand in hand with the people, demanding the release of students and activists who were unfairly arrested when striving to bring about a democratic education system.”
“Let’s continue our struggle in the 7 July spirit! All students unite! ABFSU!”
Tuesday morning’s event opened a day of commemoration, with students gathering in Mandalay and further ceremonies planned for other locations in Rangoon.