03/13/2015, 00.00
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Education reform in Myanmar: 17 students freed, protest leaders "will be punished"

Yesterday 10 monks and 17 students were released. They were arrested on 10 March, during the violent repression of a peaceful demonstration. The government announces "measures" against the organizers. The religious returned to their monasteries, after swearing they will not become involved in political issues. Condemnation of activists and pro-human rights organizations.

Yangon (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The Burmese authorities have released 10 monks and 17 students, part of the 127 people arrested during the violent police repression of protests promoted by young people, who are asking for changes to the controversial Education reform.

The release took place yesterday, while the police are continuing to interrogate those who are still in detention. At the same time, the government has confirmed that "measures will be taken" against the promoters and organizers of the event.

On 10 March, hundreds of agents charged students who, for days, were surrounded by police in the central town of Letpadan, about 140 km north of Yangon.

The youth were marching in the direction of the commercial capital of Myanmar to join the movement in the streets, when they were stopped by the authorities who blocked their progress.

According to reports from the government newspaper Global New Light of Myanmar, the 10 monks were able to return to their monasteries after swearing that they will abstain from getting involved in political activities, social issues or in the student protests. They must also obey the instructions issued by the monastic community.

Among those arrested, at least 10 are still undergoing medical treatment in Tharyarwaddy prison; 60 others have been charged under the offenses of unlawful assembly, riot, insulting a public official. Offences which carry up to three years in prison. Sources of the dissident newspaper The Irrawaddy say that ten other people should be released "within the day today."

Activists, human rights groups and politicians have condemned the violent crackdown by the police against young people, students and monks, calling it "a backwards step " for Myanmar in the process of transition from military rule to a democratic system.

It is also a setback for the so-called reformist president Thein Sein (former general of the junta) and a wake-up call ahead of general elections later this year.

Last week, student representatives accused the government of violating a recently reached agreement on a draft education reform bill.

According to activists and academics, the Education Ministry has been circulating a different draft from what was originally agreed upon. For their part, the authorities continue to threaten protesters.

Initially, four parties - government, parliament, students and the National Network for Educational Reform (NNER) - had reached an agreement on 14 February after long and hard talks and many days of tensions.

The deal includes many of the students' demands, like academic freedom for educational institutions and the right of students and teachers to form their own unions.

However, the government appears to have disavowed the new draft, describing it as a simple "proposal" and continued to work on its first draft, which has been rejected by the students.

In a not too distant past, Myanmar's educational system was one of Asia's best. However, decades of military rule and tight control over high schools and universities have resulted in a decline that still weighs heavily on the quality of education and academic freedom.

The country's current rulers are worried that the students' threats to take their protests to the whole country could get out of hand. They remember that student-led pro-democracy demonstrations ended in a bloodbath in 1988 when the military cracked down on protesters. 



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