Friday, September 22, 2017

Police arrest protesters marching to Nay Pyi Taw

Police yesterday arrested 86 factory workers who marched over 185 miles (300 kilometres) from Sagaing Region to Nay Pyi Taw.

Over 100 police swarmed the protesters, who said they were marching to demonstrate dissatisfaction at being wrongly fired from a wood factory.

After three weeks of walking in over 40 degree heat, the marchers reached the outskirts of the capital yesterday where they had hoped to speak with representatives of the government about their request for better working conditions.

Instead, they were told to halt at milepost 289 along the Yangon- Mandalay highway where they had temporarily stopped on May 17, or else face police action. They were told at milepost 284 that police were waiting.

Ignoring the warning, the workers moved onward yesterday. But before they could reach Nay Pyi Taw’s Tatkon township they were blocked by a police column around 8am. After a stand-off that stretched into the afternoon, the officers began the arrests at around 1pm.

“In the recent arrest we tried not to use force,” Police Colonel Ko Ko Aung, head of the Nay Pyi Taw force, told media.

Yet reporters on the scene witnessed the demonstrators being forcefully grabbed, lifted up and carried against their will into prison vans.

“The Nay Pyi Taw Council chair had offered to negotiate with five leaders representing the workers, but they did not accept the invitation. Instead, they demanded to continue walking and to negotiation with all members of the council. This is not in accordance with the law, so we had to arrest them,” the police colonel said.

As they were driven away, the protesters could be heard shouting from the police vehicle, “We will topple this government! We will cut off the little finger that we voted for it with!”

As a party of many former political prisoners, the National League for Democracy has vowed not to create any more prisoners of conscience and has begun amending the notorious Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Assembly Act which was a favoured tool of the junta and then the previous administration to clamp down on activists and protesters. Rights groups have expressed concern that the new government’s proposed amendments to the law fall far short of bringing it into line with international standards and allowing freedom of assembly.

Police have recently cracked down on other groups of protesters and activists as well, including student who led an interfaith peace walk in Yangon last weekend.

Translation by Thiri Min Htun