On November 23, Monday, 10 prominent human rights organizations issued a joint statement calling on the Myanmar government to release activists jailed for peacefully protesting against human right violations in the country’s Rakhine and Chin States. The signatory organizations include Civil Rights Defenders, Burma Human Rights Network, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, among others. Several activists and students, many from the All Burma Federation of Student Unions, have been recently arrested by the Myanmar authorities for protesting mainly against the internet restrictions in place in Rakhine and Chin since July 2019.
The organizations condemned the Aung Sun Suu Kyi-led government for arresting students who merely “disseminated flyers and attached signs to various public places.” As per the statement, the authorities have indulged in “arbitrary targeting of student activists calling for peace and the end of human rights violations.”
On September 9, students in Rakhine State capital Sittwe organized a protest against restrictions on internet access imposed by the government since last year. Following the protest, authorities arrested three activists, Toe Toe Aung, Kyaw Naing Htay, and Oo Than Naing, by invoking the country’s natural disaster management law, using the pretext of the COVID-19 pandemic. While these charges were later dropped, the activists are still being held under section 19 of the peaceful assembly and peaceful procession law.
In the next few days, student protests highlighting the humanitarian situation in Rakhine and Chin provinces were witnessed in Yangon, Mandalay, and other cities. On September 10, students in Yangon organized a sticker campaign, posting slogans such as ‘Restore 4G Internet Access’, ‘No Bloody Government’, ‘No Murder Army’, ‘No Trust in Rakhine State Government’, ‘Oppose Fascism’, and ‘Stand With People in Rakhine’, on various public buildings. Several student activists were arrested following the protests under sections 505(a) and (b) of the Myanmar Penal Code, both of which deal with “‘incitement’ and carry up to two years’ imprisonment and/or a fine.”
Organizers of the Mandalay protests, Kyaw Thiha Ye Kyaw and Soe Hla, have already been convicted with a seven-year prison sentence each, with more cases against them pending in the courts.
In this regard, the organizations part of the joint statement, “[called] on authorities to immediately release all of those arrested in relation to the recent student protests as well other individuals imprisoned solely for the peaceful exercise of their rights; and end criminal proceedings against all students targeted merely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.”