Request for Urgent Appeal to the Government of Myanmar regarding the crackdown on student protesters

Dear Madam, Sirs,

We are writing to follow up on the below letters regarding the Government of Myanmar’s response to peaceful student protesters. The Government’s response has significantly worsened over the past three days, and the levels of violence used against peaceful protesters has increased in severity, particularly today. We are highly concerned that such violations are rapidly spiralling out of control.

On 6 March 2015, the President’s Office posted on their Facebook page a photo of Article 128 of the colonial-era 1898 Code of Criminal Procedure, which provides that the government can use civilian men to break up assemblies (approved or otherwise) and “arrest” or “confine” participants. We are highly concerned of reports that “Swan Ah Shin”, a paramilitary group that was used by previous military governments to quash protests such as during the 2007 “Saffron Revolution” has now been resurrected by the Government in a form to crush dissenting assemblies. “Swan Ah Shin” members are sometimes identified by an armband with the word “duty” on, but are otherwise unidentified and allowed to act freely by the police.

On 6 March, peaceful protesters outside City Hall, Yangon, were seen being abused, such as by being placed in chokeholds, by either plainclothes police or “Swan Ah Shin”. On 8 March, plainclothes police or “Swan Ah Shin” broke up a peaceful assembly in Hmawbi Township due to it having not received prior approval. The peaceful assembly of 20 students were protesting against police violence towards other student protesters, who themselves had not gained permission to assemble. Similar plainclothes interventions occurred in Sule Pagoda (5 March) and Letpadan (6 March). At least three participants were arrested.

Today, 10 March, 500 uniformed police responded with baton charges against peaceful student protesters in Letpadan who were attempting to exit through barbed wire that had been constructed by authorities to hold them inside a monastery. The students are being held in Letpadan, which is 120km from Yangon, to prevent them getting to the city of Yangon. The police used excessive force, beating and kicking students and others, including monks, who had fallen on the ground. Those students and participants that did not try to leave the monastery were captured inside and bound with ropes, with those who surrendered to the police being subjected to ill-treatment. The police also subjected media workers reporting on the protests to ill-treatment. The staff of two ambulances sent to help the wounded were reportedly subjected to ill-treatment too, and those injured inside the ambulances were subjected once again to further ill-treatment. There is information that 127 participants, including some journalists, were taken away in police transporters, but unclear as to what charges were brought, if any.

We are highly concerned that such violations are beginning to spiral out of control. We urge you to call on the Government to:

  • Carry out effective and impartial investigations into all cases of alleged ill-treatment and excessive use of force against demonstrators, journalists, ambulance staff and those receiving health treatment, and bring those responsible to justice
  • Immediately dissolve all paramilitary groups and bring those members responsible for violence to justice
  • Repeal Article 128 of the 1898 Code of Criminal Procedure
  • Immediately release all detainees, including journalists