Friday, August 18, 2017

White armbands hit streets of Yangon

Opposition to the violent police crackdown on students at Letpadan on March 10 continues to grow, as supporters of the student movement circulate white armbands as a sign of solidarity.

Campaign members distribute armbands in downtown Yangon on March 13. (Naing Wynn Htoon/The Myanmar Times)Campaign members distribute armbands in downtown Yangon on March 13. (Naing Wynn Htoon/The Myanmar Times)

Yangon students and activists launched the campaign to focus public disapproval of the police action against the protestors by handing out the armbands, which bear the words “We are students. Respect our rights” on March 13, with more armbands distributed on March 15.

The movement began at Mahabandoola Park and spread across the city. The armbands have been spotted in parks, markets, tea shops and on public transport.

On March 10, baton-wielding police attacked students and monks at Letpadan, arresting 127 people in a violent end to an eight-day standoff over the national education law. The police have since released without charge several dozen of those arrested, but those still in custody could face several years in prison.

Maung Saung Kha, the leader of the Poetry Lovers’ Association, who has been active in the white armband campaign, told The Myanmar Times yesterday the authorities were already asking questions about the campaign.

Administrators of two Yangon townships where armbands were distributed on March 13 asked organisers who arranged the campaign, what its aims were and how many people were taking part.

Maung Saung Kha said the officials allowed the campaign to go ahead after organisers answered their questions.

“We’ve handed out 5000 armbands in the past two days. We will hand out more. It’s all been done peacefully,” he said, urging people to show their support for the students’ cause by wearing an armband.

“I think this is a better way [to protest] because of the current situation. It is a peaceful response. A lot of people are wearing the armbands, so we are very satisfied,” he said.

Others have declined to wear the armbands, fearing discrimination in the workplace.

“I want to wear an armband, but I can’t. Our company says they don’t want staff getting involved in anything political, and I think this campaign was political,” said Ko Win Aung, who works for a private company in Pansodan Street.

“I wore the armband because I read about the government’s harsh crackdown on the students. It was a good and peaceful campaign,” said a young man at Sule bus stop.

Organisers are asking supporters to wear the armbands for one week, while they also plan to extend the campaign to other states and regions.