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Academic Freedom and Higher Education in post-coup Myanmar

Updated: Jan 6, 2023

A year after the violent military takeover, clashes between the junta government and the anti-authoritarian opposition continue to escalate in Myanmar. Last month the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) in Myanmar called for a “silent strike” on February 1, 2022, urging people to stay home, close their shops and halt outdoor activity for six hours to mark the anniversary of the coup. In response, the junta circulated leaflets warning that participants would be charged with terrorism and incitement. The National Defense and Security Council of the country extended the state of emergency on Monday, hours before the anniversary. Authorities detained at least 58 people last week, who indicated they had plans to participate in the silent strike. According to local media reports from Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, the clashes resulted in at least two deaths at a pro-military rally on February 1.

A Buddhist monk raises his clenched fist during an anti-military protest on Tuesday, February 1, in Mandalay, Myanmar || Photo credit: Associated Press

Silent strikes were held nationwide on March 24 last year and on 10 December, which was International Human Rights Day, “to show the world that the power belongs to the civilians, not the military council”, according to the organizers from the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM). CDM started as a nationwide movement after the coup, with thousands of students, teachers, lawyers, and different professionals joining the protests, going on strike or boycotting military-run institutions, demanding an immediate return to civilian politics.

Towards the anniversary of the coup, on January 6, 2022, the military junta reopened universities for graduate education and third-year students, but not for first- and second-year students. Also, since the coup, there has been no new intake of first-year students at any universities. In any case, the attendance is quite low, as thousands of students have been imprisoned, died in custody, or fled from the country in search of safety. According to a mathematics professor from East Yangon University, only those who are pro-military government will be able to attend universities. Almost all students and teachers who attended peaceful protests have been charged with incitement under Section 505-A of the country’s Penal Code, which carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison. Obviously, the fear of arrest and prosecution keeps the students away from campuses.

Endangered Scholars Worldwide (ESW) forcefully condemns the ongoing detention, persecution, conviction, and brutal treatment of students, activists, and journalists by Myanmar’s military regime and stands in solidarity with Burmese people in their struggle for freedom and a peaceful transition to democracy. The widespread arrests, trials, and imprisonments of Myanmar’s students are particularly appalling. ESW calls upon all international organizations, academic and professional associations, and other groups and individuals devoted to the promotion and defense of human rights to strongly protest and condemn this arbitrary imprisonment; to ask for their immediate and unconditional release; and to urge the officials of the Burmese government to release all political prisoners, especially those who pose no threat to the public.

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Christine John
Christine John

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