Myanmar Activist Arrested For Role in Education Reform Protest

2015-11-04
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Myanmar students wave as they arrive for a hearing at a court in Letpadan, March 25, 2015.
Myanmar students wave as they arrive for a hearing at a court in Letpadan, March 25, 2015.
AFP

A prominent student unionist wanted by police in Myanmar for his role in protests challenging a controversial national education law was arrested on Wednesday after spending nearly eight months in hiding, his mother said.

Lin Htet Naing, the 27-year-old vice chairman of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU), the umbrella organization for all student unions in the country, was sent to Insein prison after the first day of his trial in Kamaryut Township Court in the north central part of the commercial capital Yangon, his mother Kyi Myint told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

Authorities apprehended Lin Htet Naing, who also goes by the English name James, on Tuesday for participating in the protests which turned violent in March in the central Myanmar town of Letpadan, resulting in the arrests of nearly 130 students and their supporters.

Lin Htet Naing and ABSFU president Kyaw Ko Ko, who was taken into custody on Oct. 29, had been on the run after authorities issued warrants for their arrests following the Letpadan protest.

Police detained Lin Htet Naing while he was on a bus heading to Shwepyitha township, the online journal The Irrawaddy reported.

Kyaw Ko Ko, who is also on trial, was sent on Wednesday to Insein prison, known for its dirty conditions and the torture and inhumane treatment of political dissidents.

The pair and four other student protesters with outstanding arrest warrants are facing five charges, including unlawful assembly, rioting and inciting the public to commit offenses against the state.

“Kyaw Ko Ko and Lin Htet Naing were charged under the same articles,” Kyi Myint said.

Lin Htet Naing, Kyaw Ko Ko, and two other student activists are due to appear in court on Thursday and again on Nov. 11, she said.

Phyo Phyo Aung, Lin Htet Naing’s wife who is secretary of the ABSFU, was arrested during the Letpadan protest on March 10 and remains in jail awaiting trial on various charges, including participating in an unlawful assembly, rioting, causing harm to a public servant and inciting the public to commit offenses against the state.

About 60 students and activists detained during the Letpadan protest remain behind bars in Tharrawaddy prison, Bago region, where they face sentences of up to nine and a half years. Their treatment has drawn sharp criticism from the human rights community as a cloud over the country’s democratization process.

The protesters had been marching across the country, demanding a more "democratic" education law with a decentralized education system, changes to university entrance exam requirements, modernization of the national education curriculum, the right to form student unions, and instruction for ethnic minority groups in their own languages.

But police brutally attacked and jailed them when they had reached Letpadan.

Domestic and international human rights organizations have called on the government to release the students before the country’s general elections on Nov. 8, so they are able to cast votes.

Reported by Moe Kalyar Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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