Friday, August 18, 2017

Police add belated charges against student protesters

Yangon and Mandalay police are ramping up charges against student protesters, issuing summonses for demonstrations staged up to two years ago.

Ma Po Po, a 20-year-old student activist already on trial, told The Myanmar Times that police sent her notice of fresh charges on January 26. The letter said 10 students, including her, were charged under Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Law because they didn’t get permission to stage their protest against the education law on August 28, 2014, in front of Eastern Yangon University.

The Thanlyin township police summoned Ma Po Po, Ko Min Thway Thit, Ko Ye Min Oo, Ma Tin Tin Khine and six others not named to the station on January 29.

“I think the government is taking a last chance to charge the students with all the different cases they can,” Ma Po Po said.

Of the 10 activists given new charges earlier this week, most are already on trial.

Ma Po Po is out on bail facing charges that range from rioting to unlawful assembly after she participated in student marches in Yangon last year. Many of her co-defendants remain in the Thayawady Prison. Their alleged offences carry penalties of up to three years in prison.

Thanlyin township Police Captain Myint Aung confirmed the fresh charges for 10 student activists but refused to explain the one-and-a-half year delay for processing the case.

In a separate incident of student activists facing new rounds of charges, Ko Kaung Zaw Hein, Ko Shine Min Htet Aung and Ko Ye Yint Paing Hmu were slammed with article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Law on January 26. They were charged by the Mandalay police for demonstrating against the student arrest in Chan Aye Tharzan township in June last year. One of those charged, Ko Ye Yint Paing Hmu, is already in police custody, but the other two defendants have been declared fugitives.

Police Colonel U Sein Tun from the Mandalay police office confirmed the case had been opened, but again could not explain why the charges were so belated.

Ko Ye Yint Paing Hmuu, a student in Kyaukse Technology University, was arrested in December in Amarapura township for his alleged involvement in graffiting Mandalay’s Yadanapon University. Protesters had spray-painted anti-government speeches and called for the release of all political prisoners. Ko Ye Yint

Paing Hmuu is already facing trial under articles 143, 145, 147 and 505(b) of the penal code.

U Kyi Myint, a lawyer assisting the students in Thayawady court, called the government’s decision to ratchet up charges against the students after being voted out of the seat of power a “disgrace”.

“Students were protesting peacefully, so the government should stop adding charges and at the end of their term and have the integrity to show sympathy,” he said.

Daw Khin Khin Yu, the mother of detained student Ko Min Thwe Thit, said the sluggish trial has taken a hefty toll.

“My son is suffering health problem in prison, he is losing chances for his education, and the family is facing depression and financial crisis, all because of the government,” she said.

Deemed one of the biggest blights on the human-rights record of the outgoing government, the often-violent crackdown on the student uprising last year led to an influx of hundreds of political prisoners. Two dozen of the 53 students and activists still detained after clashes at Letpadan last March are facing deteriorating and life-threatening medical conditions.

A recent round of amnesty granted shortly after the US called on President U Thein Sein to fulfill his 2013 promise to free all political prisoners included just two students, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.