The arrests this week of five Burmese student leaders who led a peaceful protest against military control of the country’s parliament show that Myanmar’s government is unwilling to make real progress toward democratic reform, rights groups in the country said on Thursday.
On July 1, five protest leaders were charged with violating Section 18 of the country’s penal code, which requires that prior permission be obtained from authorities before any rally can be held, according to local media.
“We charged them under Section 18 because they did not receive permission for the protest,” Police Colonel Kyaw Htut from the Yangon Police Department’s Western District told the Eleven Myanmar media group in a July 2 report.
“A total of five students, including Zayyar Lwin, Paing Ye Thu and Nang Linn were charged,” Kyaw Htut said.
Speaking to RFA’s Myanmar Service on Thursday, student leader Nann Linn confirmed Paing Ye Thu’s arrest, adding “We heard that he was taken by police from Kyauktada [Township] and sent to Insein prison.”
“It is difficult to ask anyone for details, as he was living alone,” he said.
The June 30 march in Myanmar’s former capital Yangon drew hundreds of participants and followed a June 25 vote in parliament in which lawmakers failed to pass amendments to the country’s 2008 junta-drafted constitution that would have removed the military’s effective veto on legislative reform.
Wednesday’s arrests show that Myanmar’s government, while pretending to move toward reform, is still deeply unwilling to change, Aung Myo Min, director of the Yangon-based rights group Equality Myanmar told RFA.
“More people are being arrested because [the authorities] still don’t want to change,” Aung Myo Min said.
“People will now fear that they too can be arrested just for speaking out or for protesting to demand change,” he said.
Students who tried to amend Myanmar’s constitution or its controversial National Education Law, which survived an attempt at reform before it was passed into law in a June 19 vote, “have been arrested and charged or are on the run,” said Zaw Thet Htwe, a member of the independent Myanmar Press Council.
“We can assume that the political weather will get even worse after national elections” scheduled for late October or early November, he said.
Calls for release
The ethnic Karen Women’s Organization (KWO) and Karen Women’s Empowerment Group (KWEG) meanwhile called this week for the “immediate and unconditional” release of jailed activist Naw Ohn Hla, who was handed a six-month sentence on Monday for conducting a peaceful prayer vigil eight years ago for the release from house arrest of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.
Naw Ohn Hla is already serving a four-year, four-month sentence for protesting the shooting death of an unarmed woman outside a Chinese-owned copper mine at Letpadaung in December 2014, the rights groups said in a June 30 statement.
“[Her] incarceration, and the continuing series of prosecutions, demonstrates that the Burma government is not serious about establishing democracy and allowing citizens fundamental freedoms,” the rights groups said.
Naw Ohn Hla was sentenced “only because she protested, which she has a right to do,” KWO spokesperson Nant Daeat Kalal told RFA on July 2.
“We have demanded in our statement that Naw Ohn Hla be given her rights as a citizen,” she said.
Reported by Tin Aung Khine for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Richard Finney.