YANGON: Fourteen students have been expelled from a Myanmar university after staging a campus protest calling for more education funding, an activist said, sparking concern about eroding freedoms in the fledgling democracy.
The four-day rally at Yadanabon University in Mandalay drew 100 students before it was broken up by police on Thursday. It was the first student protest since the civilian government led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi took office in early 2016.
Students were key drivers of political activism under the former military regime, which violently cracked down on dissent during its 50-year reign.
Many had hoped that Suu Kyi, a former political prisoner, would usher in a new era of freedom.
But a rash of defamation cases and arrests of journalists, plus lingering censorship in the arts, have dampened optimism and triggered alarm about threats to expression.
The 14 students in Mandalay said their rally was helt to call for more national spending on education.
“We … were given a letter saying that we were expelled for breaking regulations,” Kyaw Thiha Ye Kyaw, a 22-year-old law student at Yadanabon, told AFP on Saturday.
“Our demands are not for us … but for all students and all educational staff around Myanmar.”
Mandalay’s chief minister Zaw Myint Maung refused to answer reporters’ questions about the case, saying only: “We are just acting according to the law.”
Other officials could not be reached for comment.
Yan Myo Thein, an analyst and former political prisoner, criticised the “harsh decision” by a government that was “lifted on the shoulders of generations of students”.
“This decision neglects the many sacrifies made for Myanmar’s democracy,” he said, adding that the government should consider the students’ demands.
Myanmar’s education system deteriorated dramatically after a bloody junta crackdown on a student-led uprising in 1988, which left up to 3,000 dead and led to the rise of Suu Kyi’s opposition.
Many students were killed or expelled from school, while universities were shuttered for several years. As a consequence, the country has a painful shortage of talent in the professions and the civil service, reducing the potential for development.
Shortly after taking office, Suu Kyi delivered on a pledge to free dozens of students jailed in 2015 for leading protests calling for education reforms.
The Bangkok Post
27 Jan 2018 at 16:08