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Burma: Release student demonstrators and hold police accountable for the violent crackdown

Paris, Bangkok, 10 April 2015: Burmese authorities must immediately and unconditionally release the 70 students and supporters who remain in detention one month after a violent police crackdown on a largely peaceful protest in Letpadan, Pegu Division, FIDH and its member organization ALTSEAN-Burma urged today.

“One month after the brutal crackdown in Letpadan, Burma’s government is allowing injustice and impunity to continue. Student demonstrators and supporters who have been arbitrarily detained must be immediately and unconditionally released. Police who used excessive force must be investigated and held accountable,” said FIDH President Karim Lahidji.

Among the 70 detained in Tharawaddy Prison, Pegu Division, are All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) leaders Phyoe Phyoe Aung, Aung Hmine San, Moe Htet Nay, Thiha Win Tin, Hanny Oo, Nandar Sitt Aung, and Min Thway Thit. Police arrested 66 of the detainees during a largely peaceful protest march against the National Education Law in Letpadan on 10 March.

On 13 March, police in Rangoon’s Ahlone Township arrested Moe Htet Nay, Thiha Win Tin, and Hanny Oo on suspicion of involvement in the Letpadan protests and transferred them to Tharawaddy Prison. At a 25 March hearing, Letpadan Township Court charged the 69 detainees under Article 143 (unlawful assembly), Article 145 (joining or continuing in unlawful assembly), Article 147 (rioting), Article 332 (voluntarily causing harm to deter public servants), and Article 505(b) (public mischief) of the Criminal Code. The charges carry a maximum total sentence of nine and a half years in prison. On 25 March, Letpadan Township Court also charged 11 people detained on 10 March under Articles 143, 145, and 147 of the Criminal Code, but released them on bail.

On 27 March, police in Rangoon arrested Nandar Sitt Aung following a peaceful protest calling for the release of all student demonstrators. On 30 March, authorities transferred him to Tharawaddy Prison, where he faces charges under Articles 143, 145, 147, 332, and 505(b) along with the other 69 detainees and four students charged in absentia.

Of the 127 people detained on 10 March, those released without charges had to first sign a statement stating they would no longer be involved in the protests.

Video and photo evidence corroborates eyewitness testimony that police in Letpadan used excessive and indiscriminate force against peaceful protesters. Police struck emergency medical workers with batons and beat individuals who attempted to surrender peacefully.

FIDH and ALTSEAN-Burma urge Burma’s police force to conform to international standards of crowd control, including the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials. The two organizations also call on the European Union (EU) to advocate for constitutional amendments aimed at bringing Burma’s police under civilian control. Currently, Burma’s police remain under the control of the Home Affairs Ministry, which must be headed by a member of the military, according to Burma’s constitution.

Since 2013, the EU has funded a program to train Burma’s police force in crowd control and improve their human rights performance.

“Providing crowd control training to Burma’s police is a laudable initiative. But without the necessary institutional reforms and changes in the higher ranks of the chain of command, the EU can expect further setbacks and the people of Burma more violent repression of peaceful dissent,” said ALTSEAN-Burma Coordinator and FIDH Secretary-General Debbie Stothard.

Background information

In November 2014, students led a series of protests calling for changes to the National Education Law, which was approved by Parliament in September 2014. On 20 January 2015, more than 100 students began a march from Mandalay to Rangoon to demand changes to the law after the government failed to respond to a 60-day ultimatum for negotiations over amendments.

On 2 March 2015, police surrounded student rights demonstrators camped at a monastery in Letpadan, Pegu Division, in order to prevent them from continuing their march to Rangoon. A 10 March agreement to allow the protesters in Letpadan to travel to Rangoon by car broke down when authorities refused to permit the students to chant slogans or wave flags on the way. Police officers attacked around 200 student rights defenders, supporters, and journalists after the group attempted to break through the heavy police barricades.