Myanmar Students Call for Legal Action Against Letpadan Police

2015-08-25
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Police restrain a student during a protest against an education bill in Letpadan, Bago division, March 6, 2015.
Police restrain a student during a protest against an education bill in Letpadan, Bago division, March 6, 2015.
AFP

Nearly 60 imprisoned students signed a petition on Tuesday to urge legal action against police who beat them in March in the central Myanmar town of Letpadan during a peaceful protest over national education policy, an attorney representing the students said.

Authorities had jailed a total of 127 student activists and their supporters following the protest that turned violent when police attacked them in 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.

More than 70 students went on trial in May on charges of unlawful assembly, rioting and causing injury to government workers. Some had been released on bail on medical grounds or because they were enrolled in distance-learning courses.

The 58 students who remain in prison submitted the document in Tharrawaddy district court during the ongoing trial.

“We mentioned that police used too much force,” Khin Khin Kyaw, the students’ lawyer, said. “Many students were beaten by sticks, and many were seriously injured. Cars were destroyed. The police were responsible for all of it. We submitted this petition to take action against these police officers.”

Tun Oo, father of jailed student Hanny Oo, told RFA’s Myanmar Service that some of the students were experiencing pain from the injuries they sustained during the protest, but have not received medical treatment while in jail.

“Even when the students developed serious health conditions, they were not sent to hospital for security reasons,’ he said. “My daughter Hanny Oo is coughing, having difficulty breathing and vomiting. We, the parents, have planned to demand that prison authorities provide health care to the students in jail.”

In June, Myanmar’s parliament passed a controversial education law, angering student activists who argued that 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.

Last month, Robert San Aung, a lawyer representing students who were arrested in the 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 his clients and their supporters.

He argued that the students and others had been unlawfully held for 24 hours, because police filed charges against them the day after they took them into custody.

Yangon court trial

In a related development, two detained university student leaders — Zayar Lwin and Paing Ye Thu —  appeared in court on Tuesday in Yangon, where they have been detained for unlawfully holding a demonstration on June 30 against military representation in parliament, their lawyer said.

They and a couple dozen other protesters had organized the event after lawmakers rejected an amendment that would have reduced the power of military members of parliament, who are appointed and guaranteed 25 percent of seats.

During the trial in Pabedan township court, the two student leaders were charged under Article 505 (b) of the penal code, which prohibits spreading statements that cause alarm or induce others to commit an offense against the state or the public, their lawyer Kyaw Ho said.

The township’s vice administrator testified against them during the trial, the fifth such one in which they were involved, he said.

“They were charged under Article 505 (b), but they didn’t do anything for which they can be charged under this article,” he said.

Zayar Lwin, a member of the Democracy Education Initiative Committee, a civil society organization aligned with the protesting students earlier this year, had pressed for the release of the students detained in the Letpadan crackdown during a parliamentary hearing in March to discuss reforms to the National Education Law.

Reported by Khin Khin Ei and Kyaw Zaw Win of RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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