Friday, August 18, 2017

Activists and celebrities gather to denounce police crackdown

Activists and celebrities packed a Yangon hall of the Free Funeral Service Society yesterday to denounce police violence against students and other protesters in Letpadan and to demand their release from prison.

88 Generation leader Min Ko Naing speaks at the Free Funeral Service Society in Yangon yesterday. (Zarni Phyo/The Myanmar Times)88 Generation leader Min Ko Naing speaks at the Free Funeral Service Society in Yangon yesterday. (Zarni Phyo/The Myanmar Times)

The gathering brought together several hundred politicians, students, education experts, lawyers, authors, film stars and singers, among others.

U Kyaw Thu, chair of the FFSS, whose ambulance workers were among those attacked by police in Letpadan on March 10, said the government should release the protesters and their supporters. He denounced the violence as damaging to the image of the country.

“If the government has been elected by the people, they don’t need to crack down on the student protesters. The government should not say that they are the government of the Myanmar people,” he said.

Adding to the growing outcry against the police violence and arrests of 127 people, the All Burma Federation of Student’s Union announced yesterday that they would not part in talks with parliament on draft amendments to the National Education Law unless all the protesters were released.

The statement indicated a split within the student movement, after the Action Committee for Democratic Education said a day after the crackdown that it would attend a meeting with lawmakers in Nay Pyi Taw scheduled for March 16.

The students, who are campaigning against a law that they say gives the central government too much control over education, also received a message of support from one of Myanmar’s most venerated monks.

Sayardaw Ashin Sandadika said in a message that just as those who leave their religious order to be a layman never forget habits practised in religious life, the government that changes into a civilian government from dictatorship does not forget its past behaviour.

“This was proved clearly in the violent crackdown at Letpadan. Brutally beating students who are peacefully protesting reveals the true colours of dictators. Students are proudly winners in this game,” said Ashin Sandadika, a widely respected monk who has intervened to cool inter-religious tensions in the past.

Monks were among those beaten by police at Letpadan. Officials said 10 monks were detained and later released after they promised to stay out of party politics and away from student protests.

Min Ko Naing, leader of the 88 Generation student group, said the people needed to unite. “We don’t believe in the government … We need to unite in 2015. I think we may face many difficulties,” he said.

U Thein Lwin, a member of the Nation Network for Education Reform, which has held consultations with the government over changes to the National Education Law, promised to help the students make the education system more democratic.

U Thein Lwin, who was controversially removed from the opposition National League for Democracy’s central executive committee for his role in the NNER, denounced the violence and called for the release of all detainees.

Daw Nyo Nyo Thin, also a member of the NNER, said the government should apologise to the students and take action against police who had beaten them.