03/25/2015, 00.00
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Myanmar, dozens of students on trial for protesting against education reform

At least 80 people have been made appear in court, many of them without knowing the exact charge. They are face charges of sowing disunity and encouraging instability, which carry jail terms of up to six years. They were brutally attacked by police and now risk jail time. The "reformist" president Thein Sein has defended police actions.

Yangon (AsiaNews / Agencies) - This morning, at least 80 people were brought before court, in connection with the student movement protests that were violently repressed by the police, who carried out the arrests and laid charges.

Many of those charged are part of the group that protested two weeks ago to demand changes to the controversial education reform law, currently before Parliament. They were detained near Letpadan, a town 140 km north of Yangon where the trial is being held, for trying to break the blockade erected by the security forces. They are accused of " sowing disunity and encouraging instability" and face up to six in jail.

The images of police and plainclothes agents who, armed with iron bars and sticks, attacked unarmed youth have raised global condemnation. However, the "reformist" president Thein Sein has defended police actions stressing that "scenes of this kind, in the West, would have ended in gunfire and victims."

Many relatives and family members of those arrested, along with journalists, have been waiting their arrival outside the court. Phyo Phyo Aung's father, one of dozens of young people arrested, said that his daughter is not even aware of the crimes for which she is on trial.

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

At one point, Myanmar's educational system was considered one of the best in Asia. 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 the freedom to teach.

At the same time, the country's rulers are worried about students' threats to extend their protests to the entire country, mindful that student-led pro-democracy demonstrations ended in a bloodbath in 1988 when the military cracked down on protesters.

Since 2011, when the military dictatorship ended and a semi-civilian government was formed under President Thein Sein, a former junta general, Myanmar has been engaged in a number of policy and institutional reforms along democratic lines.

However, this process of change - which also led to the partial lifting of Western sanctions - has sharply slowed down. Indeed, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is still barred from running for president.

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