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: October 29, 2015

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Prosecution

Institution(s):Various Institutions

Region & Country:Southeastern Asia | Myanmar (Burma)

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On October 29, 2015, Kyaw Ko Ko, the head of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU), was reportedly taken into custody by Burmese authorities.  He faces prosecution for his role in organizing a non-violent protest in Yangon on March 10, 2015, challenging an education law passed by Myanmar’s parliament several months earlier. 
Protesters alleged that the law curbed 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.  Police arrived and dispersed the protesters, at which point Kyaw reportedly fled. A warrant was later issued for his arrest.  (A separate protest against the education law culminated in a confrontation with police in the city of Letpadan on the same day, and led to more than 120 arrests — to view report, click here).
Kyaw reportedly went into hiding following the protest.  Plain-clothes police arrested him nearly eight months later, near the San Pya market in Thingangkun Township.  He subsequently appeared in Kamaryut Township court, and was then detained in Insein prison near Yangon. Charges against Kyaw include unlawful assembly, rioting, incitement, and causing harm to a public servant.  If he is found guilty he faces up to three years in prison.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about imprisonment and prosecution of student activists, apparently as a result of nonviolent expression and association – conduct which is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. State officials have a responsibility not to interfere with the rights to freedom of expression and association, so long as such rights are exercised peacefully and responsibly. Imprisonment and prosecution aimed at limiting expression and association undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally. State officials have an obligation to comply with internationally recognized standards of free expression and freedom of association, due process and fair trial.