On May 3, 2021, Myanmar’s military regime suspended university staff members, including professors and administrators, who went on strike to protest military rule.
Protests spread across Myanmar following a military coup on February 1, 2021. University students and faculty have been regular fixtures of university campuses.
The military regime ordered master’s, doctorate and final-year bachelor’s students back to in-person learning on campus on May 6 after a year of campus closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In preparation for students’ return, the regime ordered professors and university staff back to campus on May 3, but required them to resign from the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) before they could return to their posts. University administrators were ordered to report a list of university faculty who were absent from duties on May 3.
Maintaining the strike against military rule, many university faculty did not report to campus in-person on May 3. Students also ignored the order to return to campuses. A student union leader at Yangon University estimated that only ten percent of students attended classes following the order.
According to lists acquired by The Irrawaddy on May 8, at least 1,683 university faculty had been suspended by the military while on strike from universities. The list includes the suspension of 339 staff at University of Yangon, 392 at Mandalay University of Arts and Sciences, and 149 at Mandalay University of Foreign Languages. On May 11, Reuters reported the number of suspended university faculty to be much higher, over 11,000, according to information provided by the Myanmar Teachers’ Federation.
Scholars at Risk is concerned by the widespread dismissal of scholars and university faculty, in apparent retaliation for the peaceful exercise of the rights to academic freedom and freedom of expression—conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. University authorities and states should refrain from retaliating against scholars and university faculty for political expression, so long as it is undertaken peacefully and responsibly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, politically motivated dismissals aimed at restricting or retaliating against such activity undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.