According to Amnesty International, student leaders Phyoe Phyoe Aung and Lin Htet Naing (aka James aka Aung Thant Zin) were released on 8 April after all charges against them were dropped by courts in Myanmar. At a court in the town of Tharrawaddy, the student protesters had all charges against them dropped.
The releases follow the government's announcement on April 7 that it would work to release all prisoners of conscience at the first possible opportunity.
Phyoe Phyoe Aung is the Secretary General of prominent student union the All Burma Federation Student Union. Student unions are illegal in Myanmar.
Phyoe Phyoe Aung was imprisoned on March 10, 2015 for charges relating to student demonstrations she helped organize in February and March 2015. The students were protesting against a new education law passed by the government the previous year, which the protesters say limits free speech and democracy in the education system.
On November 3, 2015, Phyoe Phyoe Aung’s husband, Lin Htet Naing, was also arrested for organizing the protests – after nearly eight months in hiding.
Both Phyoe Phyoe Aung and Lin Htet Naing were prisoners of conscience – jailed for peacefully exercised their human right to free speech by criticizing the government and attending protests.
Reports indicate that Phyoe Phyoe Aung and Lin Htet Naing were imprisoned following their part in organizing the student unions to demonstrate in 2007.
The police violently cracked down on the protesters, and Phyoe Phyoe Aung served over three years in prison for her association with the demonstrations – including a month in solitary confinement.
On 30 September 2014, the Burmese government adopted the National Education Law. Student unions say that under the new law, universities are not independent from the Ministry of Education. The law outlaws student and teacher unions, as well as stopping classes being taught in minority languages in higher education.
Phyoe Phyoe Aung and other student leaders began talks with the authorities in January 2015 to address the students’ concerns. But the talks soon broke down, and the following month the student leaders organized protests in cities across Myanmar. The authorities briefly listened when faced with the prospect of protests – and ordered the students to stop the demonstrations. But the talks did not progress, leading the students to once again plan protests across four Burmese cities.
The protests took place, and on March 10 police responded with force, beating protesters with batons, even when they had fallen to the ground. Phyoe Phyoe Aung tried to negotiate a peaceful ending to the stand-off with police, but when they started using force she took refuge with others in a nearby monastery. Police surrounded the monastery; Phyoe Phyoe Aung and a friend approached them and offered to disperse the protest if the police refrained from using violence. Instead, the students were handcuffed, sat down in rows and beaten over the heads with batons.
Endangered Scholars Worldwide is now look forward to the release of all prisoners of conscience in Myanmar who are imprisoned simply for exercising their human rights.