Hundreds of activists remain in jail as student protesters go on trial
by Francis Khoo Thwe
According to an activist group, 157 political prisoners are in Burmese prisons with 453 activists awaiting trial. The authorities continue to violate the rights of the country’s citizens, silencing critics and persecuting the opposition. Yesterday, 70 students went on trial for protesting against school reform. They could get up to nine and a half years in prison.

Yangon (AsiaNews) – At least 157 political prisoners held in Burma (Myanmar) were still in jail in late April with an additional 453 activists waiting to go on trial for political “crimes”, this according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP)-Burma

Speaking to AsiaNews, the political prisoners advocacy group said that the Myanmar government continues to violate the rights of its citizens, silencing its critics and persecuting its opposition, thereby preventing "the exercise of basic fundamental rights".

In a recent report, AAPP said that 62 political activists were charged, with five arrested under the infamous Section 18 of the Law on assemblies and peaceful meetings, which the authorities use to stop, arrest and convict pro-democracy activists fighting for political freedoms, as well as civil and human rights.

In April, 62 political activists were charged in total, with five arrested. Sixteen were sentenced, and seven released after purging their sentence.

The health situation of three of the political prisoners – Than Swe, Wanna Soe and Aung Chan Min - is cause for concern. They need immediate attention

Many of the people arrested were taken into custody in connection to a police crackdown against student protest in Letpadan in March.

After international media picked up the news, many Western governments issued protests, with many fearing a repeat of the tragic events of September 2007, when a protest by monks and young people was violently repressed by the authorities.

The trial of 70 students and activists arrested for protesting against school reform began yesterday in Letpadan, in the central district of Bago, with charges ranging from unauthorised assembly to riot.

If convicted, the defendants face up to nine and a half years in prison.

The day ended with chief of police making his statement. The trial is expected to resume on 26 May.

One of the defendants, 16, was released on bail and will be tried by a juvenile court.

According AAPP activists, the conditions of some of the students arrested following the protests are "a source of great concern." During the arrest, they suffered major injuries that have not healed after several weeks.

The prisoners have not been allowed to see their lawyers and have been allowed the rare visit by relatives.

Meanwhile, the lower house of the Burmese Parliament approved an amendment introducing some changes to the controversial education reform.

However, the new draft does not contain student demands that had been initially accepted by the authorities during February negotiations.