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 02, 2021

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Prosecution

Institution(s):University of Yangon

Region & Country:Southeastern Asia | Myanmar (Burma)

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On March 2, 2021, plainclothes state security forces abducted Arkar Moe Thu, a professor in the Oriental Studies Department of the University of Yangon, apparently for his role in organizing teachers protesting the military coup.

Protests have raged in Myanmar since a military coup began on February 1, 2021. University faculty, students, and other young people have played a leading role in many of the protests against the coup. Military and police have cracked down violently on the protests, firing rubber bullets and live ammunition and detaining hundreds of protesters. Many worker groups have also gone on strike as part of a mass Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM). Arkar Moe Thu has reportedly organized faculty at Yangon University and others as part of the CDM.

Available sources indicate that on the morning of March 2, security forces wearing civilian clothing appeared in two vehicles outside the Hlaing campus of Yangon University, where educators and staff gathered for a protest. Security forces then detained Arkar Moe Thu  at gunpoint. Shortly thereafter, police reportedly arrived on the scene and violently broke up the protest.

Authorities have since arrested Arkar Moe Thu, who is also the chair of the Yangon University Teachers’ Union, under section 505 (a) of the penal code (“Whoever makes, publishes or circulates any statement, rumour or report,— (a) with intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, any officer, soldier, sailor or airman, in the Army, Navy or Air Force to mutiny or otherwise disregard or fail in his duty as such.”).

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the detention and arrest of a scholar as well the use of force by police to restrict the nonviolent exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly on campus — conduct that is expressly protected by international human rights law including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. State authorities have an obligation to refrain from taking actions to restrict or retaliate against such conduct, so long as it is nonviolent and responsible. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, abductions, arrests, and the use of force intended to restrict or otherwise deter the nonviolent expressive activity of scholars undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.

UPDATE: On January 17, 2022, the Insein Central Prison Court convicted and sentenced Arkar Moe Thu to three years in prison with hard labor.