March 13, 2015 – Myanmar activists vowed to keep up the pressure on the government despite a violent crackdown on their student-led protests that sparked international alarm, as authorities continued to hold dozens of demonstrators.
Police armed with batons beat protesters at two recent student-led rallies calling for education reform, in violent scenes that have drawn comparisons to the tactics used under the former junta.
The nation is poised to hold a breakthrough election later this year but some observers have cast doubt on the pace and depth of the reform process with polls looming.
Authorities detained some 127 demonstrators – including students and monks – in a frenzied crackdown on a protest in the central town of Letpadan on Tuesday, which has drawn condemnation from the opposition and Western nations.
Scores remain behind bars facing unknown charges and without access to their families, although authorities released a handful of students on Thursday.
Student activists not rounded up in the crackdown said they would continue their efforts to demand changes to the country’s education law, but they pledged to wait until after the current school exam period.
“We will not make any big movement during the exams,” said student leader Moe Htet Nay at a press briefing held in secret because some of the activists believe they are wanted by the police. “But we might demand to meet with the government. If they don’t accept, that is the choice they make,” he added.
Students have long been at the forefront of political action in the former military-run nation’s turbulent history, leading mass protests in 1988 that saw the rise of Suu Kyi and her party but which were brutally quashed by the military.
Scores of activists appeared at a court in Letpadan Wednesday for a hearing that was inaccessible even to family members. Myanmar’s information ministry said in a statement on its website that “action will be taken” against those activists considered “masterminds” of the rally.
But current university students would be released in the care of their parents, it said, while 10 monks are also set to be sent back to their monastery. On Thursday, families of students waited hopefully to collect their loved ones.
“I tried to stop her when I knew she was involved in the protest. But she didn’t listen to me,” said Htay Win who has not heard from his 23-year old daughter Tin Tin Khaing since the day of the protest crackdown. “I’m not happy with what government have done. They also have kids,” he added as he waited outside Letpadan court late last night.