Authorities in Myanmar Monday charged nine students with violating the country’s Peaceful Assembly Law after they staged a protest Sunday against the government’s suspension of internet services in restive Rakhine and Chin states, home to fighting between ethnic insurgents and Myanmar’s military.
The nine students organized and were part of a gathering of about 100 who demanded that the government reinstate mobile internet access in nine townships in Chin and Rakhine. Internet access was blocked in June of last year. In five of the nine townships, access was later reinstated, but then blocked again earlier this month.
Under section 19 of the Peaceful Assembly Law, the students could face a sentence of up to three months, because they did not receive prior permission to hold the protest.
Sources told RFA’s Myanmar Service that police officers in plain clothes ventured onto the campus of Yangon University to make arrests. Six of the nine students who were charged were in custody, Reuters news agency quoted a participant in the protest as saying.
One of the accused students, Myat Hein Tun, who is the secretary of the Rakhine Students Union at the University, told RFA that he disagreed with the manner in which the arrests were made.
“I think it is totally unacceptable,” said Myat Hein Tun.
“They should not make arrests on a university campus,” the student leader added.
Another student, Htoo Khant Zaw, the secretary of the Federation of Myanmar Student Union, told RFA the organizers felt they did not need permission to stage their protest because under a democratic government, they have the right to peaceful protest.
“We are not allowed to express our opinions,” said Htoo Khant Zaw.
“If we had applied for permission to protest as mandated by Article 19 of the Peaceful Assembly Law, [the authorities] would tell us what slogans we could use, and what route the protest is allowed to march, and they would tell us not to deliver long speeches, so it does not make sense,” he added.
RFA contacted the police to inquire about the arrests, but an official from Kamayut township police station said the police were not at liberty to answer questions on the matter.
In a news conference Saturday, the government justified the internet shutdown in Chin and Rakhine, saying it was for the benefit of the country. The government also said that access would not be restored while there is armed conflict in the region.
Ye Wai Phyo Aung, a student member of Athan, a youth-led free speech advocacy group, told RFA that charging students for protesting against the internet shutdown was a “double violation of human rights.”
“We have seen so many cases of the government charging people who are merely practicing the right to freedom of expression and to criticize the wrongdoing of the government.”
Reported by Zarni Htun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Khaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Eugene Whong.
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