On April 26, 2017, police officers reportedly arrested four students from Sagaing Education College (SEC) in connection with a peaceful demonstration they staged outside of the Department of Higher Education in Mandalay, Myanmar.
According to media sources, the four students — Ko Zaw Ye Htut, Ko Hnin Aung, Ko Kaung Zaw Hein, and Ko Ye Myo Swe — gathered in front of the Department of Higher Education, where they held placards and protested SEC’s restrictions on students’ mobile phone use and their ability to leave the campus on the weekend, as well as alleged human rights abuses. Police apparently arrested the students for allegedly failing to obtain a demonstration permit.
On May 9, 2017, the Chan Aye Tharzan township court convicted and sentenced the students to four months imprisonment for violating Myanmar’s Peaceful Processions and Peaceful Assembly Act , and an additional month imprisonment for violating section 228 of the Penal Code, apparently for “intentional insults or interruption of public servants sitting” during their judicial proceedings. On May 24, the students along with 259 other prisoners were released after amnesty was granted as part of the second session of the 21st Century Panglong Conference.
On May 30, one of the students, Ko Zaw Ye Htut, reportedly received a letter from SIE, ordering his dismissal on behalf of Myanmar’s Higher Education Department for “incitement to political chaos,” in connection with the demonstration.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arbitrary arrest and prosecution, as well as expulsion, of student activists in apparent retaliation for their peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association – conduct which is expressly protected under Myanmar’s Constitution and international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Myanmar is a party. State and university authorities have a responsibility to refrain from actions aimed at limiting the peaceful exercise of such rights. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom and undermine democratic society generally.