Police in Myanmar’s Bago region on Thursday arrested eight students calling for the release of protesters detained earlier this month while urging an end to fighting in Kachin state, where the national army is engaged in hostilities with the Kachin Independence Army, an ethnic armed group.
Two of those arrested, Yan Paing Htet and Sit Myat Min, have now been charged under Myanmar’s controversial Article 19 for protesting without permission from authorities, a local source told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“The others are already facing the same charge for their role in a May 6 protest in [Bago’s] Nattalin township,” the source, a protester named Metta Oo, said.
The eight arrested today were taken into custody in Pyay township in Bago, and are members of the Basic Education Students Union students’ group, Metta Oo said, adding that a hearing for five members of the group has now been set for June 4.
“They didn’t apply for permission for today’s protest, though the district administrator and township police called them yesterday and told them to apply for permission,” she said.
Myanmar’s de facto national leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) have come under fire in recent months for the arrests and detentions of protesters and others who openly criticize the civilian administration or the country’s still-powerful military.
Rights groups and lawyers in Myanmar see the pursuit of charges against peaceful protesters as a threat to freedom of expression and assembly in the Southeast Asian country, which voted in the NLD-led government in late 2015 after five decades of military rule.
Student organizations in Myanmar have meanwhile objected to new restrictions by higher education officials on public speaking on campuses, which they say have been put in place to prevent them from holding political lectures and discussions.
The order, which was issued by the Department of Higher Education of Myanmar’s Ministry of Education, was sent to all the country’s degree-granting higher-learning institutions on May 21.
Speaking to RFA’s Myanmar Service, former NLD spokesperson Monywa Aung Shin said the order should be reconsidered, though the department issuing the directive had "reasons for doing so."
“As we have many different student organizations these days, I think they issued this order because they were worried that contradictions would emerge among these groups,” he said.
“In my personal opinion, though, this is something that should be reconsidered.”
The NLD is planning to hold a nationwide conference soon that will attract younger members and will eventually assign “suitable duties” to members of all ages, Monywa Aung Shin said.
“I know we have to make more room for young people, but for now the old and the young will have to work together, as the young are not able to take on all these duties alone at this time,” he said.
Reported by Kyaw Thu and Thinn Thiri for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Richard Finney.