Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Letpadan detainees hit with fresh charges

More than 80 student protesters and activists arrived back in court yesterday where they were slapped with fresh charges that could lead to dozens of years in prison.

Detained activists gesture from a departing police truck following a court hearing in Letpadan yesterday. Photo: AFPDetained activists gesture from a departing police truck following a court hearing in Letpadan yesterday. Photo: AFP

A total of 81 people, including 11 released on bail, now face 50 charges – five for each of the 10 townships the protesters marched through between Mandalay and Letpadan in Bago Region – according to lawyer U Robert San Aung who will represent some of the detainees.

The cumulative charges – which include incitement to riot, defamation and obstructing a police officer – carry a minimum penalty of 20 years imprisonment, the lawyer said. One protester also faces an additional charge of evading arrest.

Three student activists remain in hiding.

In addition to piling on the charges, the government yesterday applied to shift the trial to nearby Tharyarwady Township Court due to security concerns.

Large crowds of relatives and supporters have gathered outside the Letapadan township court for each of the three hearings to date.

“The government … used more police officers than in the previous hearing. Some relatives of the students were barred from court by police, but they managed to finally enter the court,” U Robert San Aung said.

Student leaders said they were undeterred by the government’s attempts to dampen support and attention for their cause.

“We will continue fighting the government until we get a National Education Law in line with the standards of democracy,” said Ma Phyoe Phyoe Aung, secretary of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions.

Relatives of the detained have accused police of taking excessive and unnecessary security measures.

U Tun Tun Oo, father of detained Ko Myat Min Maw, said the police blocked his family from coming to the court by saying that the road they were travelling on was under repair.

Parliamentarians yesterday said they were working to free some of the detainees through the government’s promise to release those who can prove they are “real” students.

“I have seen some students who are under 18 and some who are distance students. There are 13 distance students in prison and I am trying to get recommendations from their universities to prove to the government that they are really students,” said independent MP Daw Nyo Nyo Thin, who is also a member of National Network for Education Reform.

Police Lieutenant Colonel Aye Thein from Tharyarwady district said there are no plans to release the students at the moment. Police are focused only on arresting those student leaders still in hiding, he said.

Presidential spokesperson U Ye Htut said the student demonstrations were not a priority for the government, which is instead focused on peace talks.