BURMA/MYANMAR: Student protesters and their supporters denied legal and medical assistance in Tharawaddy Prison

Students and their supporters detained in Tharawaddy Prison continue to be denied access to lawyers. In addition, the authorities have refused medical assistance for the detainees that are injured. Thus, the government continues its persecution of the Burmese students who have taken a stand against the government’s plan with respect to education.

The background to this is that students from all over Burma have denounced and demanded amendment to the National Education Law, which was passed last year on 30 September 2014. Burmese students boycotted the law and protested for four days in Yangon on 14 November 2014. They gave 60 days to the government to reconsider the law and respond to their request. However, when the government provided no response, students commenced a protest march from Mandalay to Yangon, a distance of 359 miles. 

This student protest march was stopped in Letpadan Township on 3 March 2015, and it is here that the police brutally cracked down on the students. On 10 March, students and their supporters were subjected to police violence; the police used unjustified force; students and their supporters were beaten with batons and arrested. Officially, 127 individuals were arrested the same day and placed in Tharawaddy Prison; of these, 27 were released from the Prison without charge on 12 and 13 March. Two days later, some of the detainees were brought before the court to get remand, but none were allowed to meet family or lawyers.

Four student leaders, along with one journalist, none of whom were at the protest site at the time of the crackdown, were also arrested in Yangon on 12 March, late in the night. One student and the journalist have been released, while other three students have been transferred to detention in Pegu Division.

The rights of the students and their supporters have been denied as no lawyers have been allowed to meet them following their arrest. The detainees were not allowed to meet with their families for over a week following the arrests. Also, while being arrested, most of them were beaten up with police batons before being brought to prison. Although they are injured and wounded their right to access medical treatment has been denied.

The students were only enjoying their fundamental rights as per the Constitution. Section 354 of the Constitution states the following:

“Every citizen shall be at liberty in the exercise of the following rights, if not contrary
to the laws, enacted for Union security, prevalence of law and order, community peace
and tranquility or public order and morality:

(a) to express and publish freely their convictions and opinions;
(b) to assemble peacefully without arms and holding procession.”

According to the Right to Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Act, the students needed to take permission from concerned authorities for their peaceful protests. The procedure is cumbersome in that the students would have needed to apply for permission five days in advance of their arrival from the Chief of the Township Police Force of every town they were passing through; this is something the students could not fulfill.

Yet, most notably, the authorities dud not file cases against the students for violating the Right to Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Act. The students are, in fact, being prosecuted under section 143, 145, 147, 332 and 505(b) of the Penal Code. Although these sections do not trump the Constitution and the liberties it provides, the authorities have been using the same to prosecute the students and their supporters.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) condemns the Myanmar Police Force’s brutal crackdown, its arrest of protestors not in accordance with law, and its continued refusal to grant detainees access to lawyers. The AHRC expresses serious concern about the refusal of proper medical treatment for the injured protestors in jail.

The AHRC urges the government to take legal action against the perpetrators, the Chief of the Myanmar Police Force, the Minister of Ministry of Home Affairs, Pegu Regional Police General U Win Sein, and administrative officers from Tharawaddy and Letpadan Township responsible for the violent crackdown. The AHRC also urges the government to immediately release the students and their supporters.