On Letpadan anniversary, rights groups urge end to ‘relentless crackdown’

By OLIVER SLOW | FRONTIER

YANGON — A year to the day since protestors were arrested in a heavy police crackdown at Letpadan, Bago Region, rights groups have urged the government to end its “relentless crackdown” on student activists.

On March 10, 2015, police in Letpadan arrested and detained more than 100 protestors who were marching from Mandalay to Yangon in protest against a National Education Law enacted in September 2014. The force used by police on the day brought international condemnation.

The police arrested 127 protestors, journalists and standers-by at Letpadan, seventy-seven of which who face charges that carry sentences of up to nine years and six months in prison, according to rights group Fortify Rights.

“Amnesty International urges the Myanmar authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all student protesters and their supporters solely detained for their peaceful activities related to the student protests,” Amnesty International said in a statement.

Amnesty also noted that, a year after the incident, the authorities have not yet conducted an independent investigation into allegations that police used excessive force at Letpadan.

“The organisation reiterates its call on the Myanmar authorities to conduct such an investigation, and to ensure that those suspected of responsibility are brought to justice in trials which meet international standards of fitness,” the release said.

Fortify Rights also released a report to mark the anniversary, alleging that police officers used excessive force during the crackdown.

The report used evidence from dozens of eyewitness accounts, more than 500 photographs and 40 videos, concluding that police “brutally punched, kicked and beat unarmed protestors with batons on their heads, backs, and legs in the town of Letpadan on March 10.”

“The government should hold to account those police officers that used excessive force against the protestors,” said Matthew Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights. “This crackdown occurred in broad daylight. Police officers are clearly visible on film and in photos beating unarmed protestors, yet they walk free while the protestors are behind bars,” he said.

The Amnesty release also notes that fresh charges are still being laid with regards to the incident. On February 24, 2016, Ma Nilar Thein was arrested for her role in protests in Yangon on February 15, 2015 supporting the students who were then marching south from Mandalay. She remains in Insein jail.

“The recent arrests and charges brought against student leaders, protesters and supporters are a worrying reminder that police in Myanmar can, and will, use repressive laws to arrest, detain and prosecute peaceful activists for political purposes. Although a new government is due to come to power at the beginning of April, under Myanmar’s 2008 Constitution, control of the Myanmar Police Force and the administration of justice will remain under the power of the military,” Amnesty said.

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