Students mark Letpadan crackdown anniversary

No probe has been launched into the police’s use of force on March 10, 2015, in Letpadan. Source: Flickr

Myanmar’s students are marking a year since the police in the Bago Region town of Letpadan violently attacked a peaceful protest march demanding educational reforms.

The students were marching from Mandalay to Yangon to demand amendments to the centralising National Education Law when they were attacked in Letpadan on March 10 last year. More than 120 students and their supporters were taken to Thayarwady prison after the crackdown with around 45 still in prison a year later facing numerous fresh charges meaning that they are still technically on trial. This meant that the government could avoid releasing them in its regular amnesties, in which hundreds of criminals have been freed.

Amnesty International reported that in the past two months, at least eight student union leaders, protesters and supporters had been arrested or were facing new charges.

The NGO said in a statement: “The recent arrests and charges brought against student leaders, protesters and supporters are a worrying reminder that police in Myanmar can, and will, use repressive laws to arrest, detain and prosecute peaceful activists for political purposes. Although a new government is due to come to power at the beginning of April, under Myanmar’s 2008 Constitution control of the Myanmar Police Force and the administration of justice will remain under the power of the military.

“One year on, scores detained with no end in sight. They face years of imprisonment for their participation in the Letpadan protest.”

The human rights body called for fair trials to be held for all those responsible for the Letpadan violence “to ensure that those suspected of responsibility are brought to justice in trials which meet international standards of fairness”.

The anniversary was marked at Letpadan at Aungmyay Beikman monastery, the site of the violence.

The All Burma Students’ Federation of Unions (Ba-Ka-Tha) issued a statement condemning the police violence and asked for the authorities to meet the original student demands for reform agreed in talks held before the crackdown.

“The aim of the commemoration is to show how inadequate the judicial processes is,” Aung Nay Paing of the Ba-Ka-Tha said. The New Society Democratic Party, United National Democracy Federation, National Network for Education Reform and Myanmar Writers’ Union sent messages demanding the release of the students and condemning the police attack.

Activists, students, poets and Buddhist monks attended the event which including a photographic display from the day.

“The government says our country is going to be democratic but we are beaten and arrested for our demand for democratic education,” said Khant Aung, a detained student.