Students and activists staged protests at 11 major cities throughout Myanmar on Friday, calling on authorities to free their jailed colleagues who have been detained for more than two weeks following a brutal police crackdown on peaceful demonstrators in Letpadan, members of a student union who attended the demonstrations said.
Students from the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) and sympathetic activists staged protests in the country’s largest cities, including Yangon, Mandalay, Taungoo, Myin Chan, Monywa, Chauk, Dawei, Myaung Mya, Taungoo, Taungtwingyi and Hinthada.
They called for the release of those detained during the Letpadan crackdown in the Tharrawaddy district of the country’s Bago division.
About 70 of the original 127 students and residents arrested are still being held in Tharrawaddy prison.
Nanada Sit Aung, an ABFSU member, demanded that authorities free the detainees in accordance with a four-party agreement on the national education law that was negotiated in Yangon.
On Feb. 11, the government agreed in principle to all student demands concerning national education reform in the four-way talks with students, lawmakers and education advocates. Government representatives and lawmakers agreed to include students and other education professionals in referendums and education law drafts.
“Authorities promised not to arrest students and activists in the four-party talk agreement,” Nanda Sit Aung, an ABFSU member, told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“They must keep their promise, but instead they broke their promise,” she said. “Our fellow students are in jail now. A violent crackdown couldn’t solve the problem and get political results, so we are demanding that the government solve the problem through peaceful negotiation, free all detained students and activists, and adhere to the four-party talk agreement.”
Eight people were arrested during the Friday protests, three in Yangon and five in Myin Chan, Mandalay division, according to a report by The Irrawaddy online journal.
Among them was Nanda Sit Aung, who was arrested by Mingala Taungnyunt township police in the commercial capital Yangon.
Police arrested her and two others for protesting without applying for permission to demonstrate, said Win Kyi, a police lieutenant colonel in Yangon district.
Other student protestors had been charged in almost every township in Yangon division, he said.
About 60 people attended the Yangon protest which lasted a half-hour, The Irrawaddy report said.
Roughly 20 of them were students who had taken part in the peaceful march from Mandalay to Rangoon, which began on Jan. 20 to protest against the National Education Law, which many believe is undemocratic and restrictive.
Protesters carried student flags, shouted slogans and held signs saying “No Violence” and “For the safety of the public, take action on the people responsible for the crackdown,” the report said.
‘Stopped by police’
Aung Nay Pine of the ABFSU, who was the only member of the Action Committee for Democratic Education (ACDE) to be freed by authorities, participated in a protest at Theingyi market in Yangon.
“We’re protesting today…to ask for the release of the detained students and the issue of the education law that was written by student representatives,” he told RFA.
“We were stopped by police, and three student leaders were arrested after the protest. The government has continued using violence to arrest students since the Letpadan crackdown.”
Kyaw Ko Ko, president of the ABSFU, told RFA that the student protest movement was only half-way through in its quest for education reform.
“The event in Letpadan has proved to students and people not to forget that we are still in the middle of our way,” he said. “We have to continue going and working; we don’t have time to hesitate or to be indecisive.”
On Thursday, Myanmar’s upper house of parliament voted to pass an amended National Education Law that incorporated some of the students’ demands.
The same day, authorities filed criminal charges against 69 students and their supporters who are still being held in Tharrawaddy prison.
Reported by Kyaw Lwin Oo, Khin Pyae Sone and Tin Aung Khine of RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.