Beginning on Friday, March 6, 2015 and continuing through at least Tuesday, March 10, 2015, a standoff between Burmese student protesters and police has escalated, reportedly involving the arrest of more than 125 protesters, as well as numerous reported beatings by police.
A group of roughly 200 student protesters had been on a march from Mandalay to Yangon, demonstrating against the education law passed by Myanmar in September 2014, which the students allege curbs academic freedom by banning student unions, ignoring calls for classes to be taught in local ethnic languages and giving decision making authority over education policy and curriculum to a body consisting largely of government ministers. The march, which had begun in January, was stopped during the week of February 28 so that students could negotiate with government authorities. The students, who were camped in a monastery in Letpadan, about 90 miles north of Yangon, sought to begin their march again on March 2, 2015, but were surrounded by police vehicles, and prevented from continuing.
On Friday, March 6, 2015, police reportedly arrested and loaded onto police vehicles five students who had separated from the larger group of student protesters. The standoff continued over the weekend, and on Tuesday, March 10, 2015, protesters attempted to resume their march; they were reportedly prevented from doing so by a human chain of roughly 400 police. As the protesters attempted to move forward, police reportedly charged, kicked and beat protesters with batons. Eventually, police arrested a total of 127 of the protesters, reportedly including 52 male students, 13 female students, and 62 villagers. Sixteen police and eight protesters were reportedly injured in the clashes.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about continued attempts to limit student mobility, as well as about detention and violent attacks, in apparent retaliation for nonviolent expressive activity concerning academic freedom and higher education policy – conduct which is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. While students and others have a responsibility to exercise their rights of free expression and association responsibly, state authorities likewise have a responsibility to protect academic freedom, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, and to refrain from imposing arbitrary restrictions on movement intended to limit these freedoms, or otherwise retaliating through improper arrest or violence against student protesters. Restrictions on travel or movement, arbitrary arrest, and violence aimed at limiting such expressive activity undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.
This is an update to an earlier report. To view related reports, please click here and here.