A Myanmar lawyer representing student activists who were jailed earlier this year during a protest over education policy that turned violent in the town of Letpadan filed charges on Tuesday against police commanders for the arbitrary detention of his clients.
Robert San Aung, the lawyer representing students who were arrested in the March 10 crackdown, asked the Tharrawaddy district court to take action against Letpadan township police commander Phone Myint and deputy commander San Myint for the unlawful arrest of students and supporters.
Police filed charges against them the next day under regulation 54, so they were unlawfully arrested for 24 hours,” Robert San Aung said.
“The commander and his deputy are totally responsible for these arrests, and that’s why we are demanding action against them.”
Police violently beat students during a peaceful protest demanding education reform in central Myanmar’s Letpadan in the Tharrawaddy district of the country’s Bago division, where they had stopped on a cross-country march to the commercial capital Yangon. Police arrested 127 students and their supporters and sent them directly to jail.
Aung Min Khine and Myo Thiha (alias San Myat Thu) — two underage students — were kept in jail for more than two months, he added.
Eight of the imprisoned students who were injured in the crackdown have requested bail on medical grounds, which the court will decide on Aug 4, he said.
Last week, their parents requested that the students receive medical treatment for injuries they sustained from beatings during the police crackdown because they have not received any attention while in jail, but the court has yet to take action, said Supreme Court lawyer Hla Myo Myint.
The court also will decide on Aug. 4 whether to pursue charges against Phone Myint and his deputy for the arbitrary detention of students, he said.
More than 70 student activists involved in the Letpadan protest went on trial in May, facing charges of unlawful assembly, rioting and causing injury to government workers.
So far, 15 have been released on bail on medical grounds or because they were enrolled in distance-learning courses, while the rest remain in Tharrawaddy prison. Some of the detained supporters of the students work full time, so they are not eligible for bail on medical or education grounds, Hla Moe Myint said.
During the hearing, Phone Myint said the students were arrested without remand on March 10 because police had the right to detain them for 24 hours under police regulation 54.
“Actually, the jail cannot accept anyone without a magistrate’s order or a remand,” Hla Myo Myint said. “[But] the charges were made only on March 11, not on March 10, so that one day constituted unlawful arrest.”
The trial has taken more than three months so far, and there are 48 witnesses, he said.
“If all the witnesses have to be heard that will be taking more than a year,” he said. “The students have not committed any crimes, but they will be in a jail for a long time. That’s why they all want to get bail. And so we are planning to do that at the next hearing.”
Human rights violation
Also on Tuesday, 13 previously detained students met with Myanmar’s Human Rights Commission in Yangon to discuss a request they and five others who are still behind bars submitted to the body to investigate human right violations during the Letpadan crackdown.
“We lost our rights in the Letpadan crackdown,” said Thant Lwan Way Chit, a student who attended the meeting today. “We protested under the law, and the crackdown on us was outside the law.”
The group of students told commission representatives that they would file a lawsuit against the police who beat them.
“It was a human rights violation, and detained girls were examined if they were pregnant before they were sent to prisons,” he said
Last month, Myanmar’s Union Parliament passed the controversial education law, angering student activists who said the legislation’s amended version failed to include key provisions they believed had been agreed to in government-sponsored talks.
Students had demanded a more democratic law that included a decentralized education system, changes to university entrance exam requirements, modernization of the national education curriculum, the right to form student unions, and instruction in the country’s ethnic minority languages.
Reported by Khin Pyae Sone, Kyaw Lwin Oo and Kyaw Zaw Win for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.