The Myanmar government should protect free expression, free all political prisoners, and provide remedies to anyone who was arbitrarily detained, said Athan and Fortify Rights in a new report on Thursday.
On April 17, Myanmar released nearly 25,000 prisoners as part of a presidential pardon; however, at least 182 political prisoners remain behind bars, and the government has failed to provide former political prisoners with effective remedies as required by international law.
The new joint report, “Our Demands are for All Students”: Violations of Students’ Rights in Mandalay, Myanmar, documents how Myanmar authorities arbitrarily arrested university students, tortured students in detention, and prevented students from exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
The government has failed to provide remedies to affected students as well as hundreds of other former political prisoners freed or released since 2015, including those freed last week.
“True democracy and freedom for activists in Myanmar is far away since the rights to freedom of assembly and expression are not guaranteed,” said Ye Wai Phyo Aung, co-founder of Athan. “Instead, the civilian government continues to shrink the space for students’ activism.”
Amid calls to release prisoners due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, President Win Myint pardoned more than 24,800 prisoners on April 17, including 18 political prisoners.
The government of Myanmar has failed to provide remedies or justice for more than 740 political prisoners freed from Myanmar’s prisons since 2015, the report said.
Despite annual pardons to prisoners, the Myanmar government continues to arrest, detain, and imprison activists, journalists, and others for exercising their rights.
The 60-page report by Athan and Fortify Rights is based on a year-long, joint investigation.
The report documents how the Myanmar government and university officials blocked university students from holding demonstrations for more security measures at Yadanabon University in Mandalay Region.
The students faced arbitrary arrest and spent more than 80 days in prison, and some students reported beatings by prison guards.
Upon release, the government failed to provide an adequate remedy to the students or share the results of an investigation into the beatings by prison guards.
This case is representative of many others in Myanmar.
“As the COVID-19 crisis deepens, it’s even more critical that the government free political prisoners and respect fundamental rights,” said Amy Smith, Executive Director of Fortify Rights.
“The government should provide remedies to those who have suffered harm, including all those wrongfully deprived of their liberty.”
Myanmar announced on March 23 its first confirmed cases of COVID-19. Myanmar prisons are notoriously overcrowded and have poor sanitation — factors that increase the potential spread of the disease.
Athan and Fortify Rights conducted 28 interviews for the report, including the seven students who were arbitrarily arrested, eyewitnesses to the protests, Yadanabon University officials — including professors and administrators — a parliamentarian, journalists, civil society activists, and others.
The report details how students at Yadanabon University involved with the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) — a nationwide student organisation in Myanmar with a long history of political activism — organised a series of protests between November 2018 and January 2019.
The protests called for increased security measures and other improvements on campus following a spike in crime, including several student murders in Mandalay Region.
Yadanabon University officials prevented a group of students from protesting on campus by either closing the gates of the university or stationing professors at the gate to stop protesters from entering the campus.