SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: March 18, 2015

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Prosecution

Institution(s):Various Institutions

Region & Country:Southeastern Asia | Myanmar (Burma)

New or Ongoing:Ongoing Incident

On Wednesday, March 18, 2015, sources reported that groups of student protesters had been arrested and detained in connection with their involvement in protests the previous week, against a new education law passed by Myanmar in September 2014. The following week, 69 student protesters were reportedly charged with offenses including unlawful assembly.
The protesters had been marching from Mandalay to Yangon, objecting to the law’s restrictions on student unions, the fact that the law granted authority over education policy and curriculum to a body consisting largely of government ministers, and because the law reportedly failed to allow classes to be taught in local ethnic languages. In early March, 2015, police surrounded a monastery in the city of Letpadan where the protesters had camped, resulting in a standoff that lasted several days.  On March 10, 2015, students reportedly attempted to continue their march, and were blocked by police, resulting in a violent confrontation, and some 127 arrests. 
In the days that followed the confrontation, police reportedly made several additional arrests of student leaders allegedly involved in the protests. On March 25, 2015, 69 of the student protesters were charged with a series of offenses, including unlawful assembly, rioting, and “publishing or circulating information that may cause public fear or alarm and which may incite people to commit offences against the state or public tranquility.”  The charges against the students reportedly carry a sentence of up to ten years in prison. 
Scholars at Risk is concerned about prosecution and imprisonment in retaliation for nonviolent, expressive activity – 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 retaliating against the exercise of such rights through arbitrary arrest or prosecution. Prosecution and imprisonment aimed at limiting expressive activity undermine academic freedom, university autonomy and democratic society generally.
This is an update to earlier reports.  To view, please click here and here.