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: November 03, 2015

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Prosecution

Institution(s):Various Institutions

Region & Country:Southeastern Asia | Myanmar (Burma)

New or Ongoing:Ongoing Incident

On November 3, 2015, Lin Htet Naing, the vice chairman of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU), was reportedly taken into custody by Burmese authorities and faces prosecution for his role in organizing a series of protests, in which large numbers of students and activists challenged an education law passed by Myanmar’s parliament in September 2014. 
In January 2015, demonstrators began a march from Mandalay to Yangon, in protest against the new education law, which they alleged 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. In early March, the protesters were camped in a monastery in Letpadan, about 90 miles north of Yangon, when they were surrounded by police vehicles, and prevented from proceeding.  This led to a standoff, and eventually a confrontation, between the protesters and authorities, in which several students were reportedly beaten with batons, kicked, and charged by police.  Ultimately more than 120 protesters were reportedly arrested.
Immediately following the confrontation in Letpadan, police issued a warrant for Lin Htet Naing’s arrest, and he went into hiding.  Police reportedly apprehended him on a bus traveling to Shwepyithar Township on November 3; he appeared in the Kamayut Township Court in Yangon the next day, and was later reportedly transferred to Insein prison.  Lin faces charges of participating in an unlawful assembly (Penal Code Article 143), joining or continuing an unlawful assembly knowing it has been commanded to disperse (Penal Code Article 145), rioting (Penal Code Article 147), and causing fear or alarm to the public “whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the State or against the public tranquility” (Penal Code Article 505(b) ).  The total combined sentence for these offenses is six years, six months 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.
This is an update to earlier reports.  To view, please click here, here and here.