Endangered Scholars Worldwide learned that on October 18, 2021, the Myanmar military, which has been ruling the country since the coup d’état in February 2021, announced that more than 5,600 people who were arrested or served warrants as result of anti-coup protests would be granted amnesty. The announcement was broadcast by the state television following a speech from Myanmar’s junta leader Min Aung Hlaing, who ironically emphasized their commitment to peace and democracy in the country.
Photo credit: Radio Free Asia
Human rights groups in the country have noted that student union members, members of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) and ethnic minorities were more likely than others to be tortured. Many of the released prisoners revealed in interviews that they had been tortured in military interrogation camps and at least one student died in prison. Salaing Law Shein Kee, a third-year chemistry student at Pakokku University and chairman of the Pakokku University Students’ Union (PUSU), was among the detainees. As he stated in his interview, several students left interrogation camps with body injuries and trauma, including the loss of limbs and teeth and, especially for female prisoners, sexual harassment and assault.
According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) report on 21 October, Lin Paing Soe, an engineering student at Kyaukse Technological University and a member of Gurkha Buddhist ethnic minority, died in military custody at Mandalay Nann Twin Interrogation Centre on 1 October. He was arrested and taken into military prison on September 30 for leading anti-regime protests in the capital Naypyitaw and Mandalay.
Another student, Aye Nanda Soe, 21-year-old student at Sagaing University Department of Education and chairperson of the Sagaing University Students’ Union, was arrested in Sagaing Region by soldiers in plain clothes on September 19, 2021. Since her unlawful arrest, her whereabouts have been unknown. Her family and friends are concerned for her well-being and are asking for an official explanation.
The Burmese military government’s amnesty decision to release political prisoners seemed to occur because the junta wanted to decrease international pressure and to attempt to gain political legitimacy in the eyes of the international public. However, many anti-regime protesters including students were immediately rearrested, which makes the intentions of the regime unclear.
Among the rearrested is Ko Thant Zin Ko, a former board director of the Monywa University Students’ Union, in Monywa city. He was first arrested on April 2, 2021, after the military failed to arrest his father, a famous anti-regime activist.
According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners documentation, 110 political prisoners were re-arrested soon after their release since the amnesty announcement and the number of releases is certainly below the number stated in the amnesty announcement. “The Myanmar junta’s recent prisoner releases are limited in scope and do not reflect a broader change in the military’s respect for human rights,” HRW said in its 21 October statement from Bangkok, Thailand. It has been also reported by several resources that some prisoners were listed to be released, but they remained in detention. Even their lawyers were not provided with any information about them.
Rearrests and other controversial practices are being used by the regime to intimidate and contain anti-government protests, and to silence the opposition. These actions are a form of psychological torture not only for the political prisoners but also for their families and communities. Tom Andrews, UN special rapporteur for Myanmar, said last month that the military takes relatives hostage, including children, when they cannot detain their targets. According to the Human Rights Watch (HRW) report in July 2021, at least 75 children have been killed and hundreds arbitrarily detained by the military regime.
As of October 21, 2021, it has been confirmed by AAPP that 1,181 people have been killed by the junta since February 2021, although the actual death toll is expected to be much higher. 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 incarceration; 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.