Myanmar’s military regime has invaded and seized control of many universities and public hospitals across the country and arrested hundreds of students and teachers in a violent crackdown that has led to over 200 deaths and has involved student leaders being tortured.
The armed forces stormed universities, public hospitals and religious buildings across Myanmar during the past few weeks. They claimed people had demanded they protect them, according to a state-run television channel in the first week of March. Armed forces removed university security guards and then forced students, staff and others on university campuses to leave.
According to a joint statement issued by Save the Children, UNESCO and UNICEF on Friday, “as of 19 March security forces have reportedly occupied more than 60 schools and university campuses in 13 states and regions”.
The UN institutions called on Myanmar’s security forces to “exercise maximum restraint and end all forms of occupation and interference with education facilities, personnel, students and other public institutions”.
Students and local people protested against the military after soldiers tried to camp at universities and public hospitals in many places across the country. At Mawlamyine University soldiers camped in the open after the university rector refused to allow them to stay in the university buildings.
Several institutions were invaded violently, including Mandalay Technological University in the early morning on 7 March, where one person was shot by a rubber bullet in the thigh and some were beaten by soldiers. A security guard, U Kyaw Thu (35), underwent surgery for severe injuries to the lower eyelid.
A second-year student of English at Mandalay Yadanabon University told University World News large numbers of soldiers were deployed to the bigger universities like Yadanabon and Mandalay, with the rest of the soldiers spread out to other universities.
“I think they want to threaten the people who are joining in the civil disobedience movement ,” the student said.
Professors and students leave campus
Professors and students from Mawlamyine University moved out after soldiers were stationed at the campus in the first week of March, according to residents. Around 200 soldiers and police were camped on the campus.
A mathematics lecturer at Mawlamyine University, who had been living with her son on campus, told University World News that all keys of the main building and 10 township university buildings were confiscated by the soldiers.
“After the soldiers invaded the university, I don’t feel safe anymore. So I moved out and I am now living with my mother,” she said, adding that all the teachers who joined the civil disobedience movement had also moved to safer places.
She believes the military want to use the campuses as a bulwark against Myanmar’s ethnic armies who have been protecting demonstrators and people against the military junta.
Ten out of Myanmar’s 17 ethnic armies which control large areas in Kachin, Shan, Rakhine and other states, and which have been fighting for decades for greater autonomy, have already signed a ceasefire agreement.
Members of the Committee Representing the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), made up of elected lawmakers of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD), have said a federal army made up of Myanmar’s ethnic armies could be formed soon as a protection force. The NLD government headed by Aung San Suu Kyi was overthrown in the 1 February military coup, with many members now in detention.
Aung Pyae Sone Phyo, a fourth-year student at Yangon University of Education who is vice president of the All Burma Federation of Students Union (ABFSU), told University World News that CRPH needs to form a coalition with the ethnic groups.
“The CRPH needs troops to fight back against the military because they have guns in their hands. We do not support violence but there will be bloodshed until we stop them,” he said.
Zaw Wai Soe is the union minister for three ministries, including health and sports, education, and labour, immigration and population, and was appointed this month by the CRPH. He denounced the strong-arm tactics used by the army and police, trespassing and stationing troops in ministry-owned health and education properties such as hospitals, schools and universities.
“I condemn these coercive tactics and demand that the premises be vacated in the first instance. Those inhumane atrocious acts against humanity are being recorded and action will be taken against these criminal perpetrators in the International Court of Justice,” he said.
Protest death toll exceeds 200
The death toll on Sunday 14 March reached 74 in one day – the bloodiest day since the coup began. Overall, 217 people have been killed during the coup and casualties are increasing dramatically, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).
“The inhumanity of the terrorist State Administration Council group [led by the military] deteriorates day after day with shootings of peaceful protestors including unarmed students and youths,” AAPP said.
Myanmar military forces using live ammunition, even at night, have increased the death and injury toll. They have been breaking into houses, and arresting, beating and torturing protesters, according to videos taken by citizen journalists.
Many university students have been killed daily. During the March 1988 uprising in Myanmar, a 23-year-old student, Phone Maw, was shot dead by soldiers. In commemoration of Phone Maw Day last week on 13 March, when students protested by sitting down near Pyay University in Bago region, soldiers used tear gas and live ammunition against them.
A 19-year-old first-year student at Maritime University was shot dead and other students were seriously injured.
First-year medical student Mg Khant Nyar Hein was another student killed in protests. The video of his shooting went viral after his still-moving body was dragged by the soldiers on 14 March in Tamwe Township, Yangon.
His funeral was held on 16 March, with thousands of students and protesters mourning for him. Mg Khant Nyar Hein was a Burmese-born ethnic Chinese. His mother spoke mournfully in Chinese at the funeral: “My precious son is dead now. My heart is broken into pieces. The China-Myanmar coup – you all need to think of our citizens. What we need is democracy, justice and freedom,” she cried.
Her comments reflected a belief that has become common among protesters, that China is backing the junta. Officially, China’s foreign ministry rejects suggestions that Beijing supported or gave tacit consent to the coup.
A final-year medical student from Yangon University of Medicine told University World News that students would carry on the non-violent protests against the regime to repay the dead students’ sacrifices and would continue the fight until the dictatorship falls.
“As students, we are very sad and angry and we want to respond more intensely,” he said, noting that: “If we solve the war with war, we must consider the loss of our people, the loss of our country and our future prospects.”
Minister Zaw Wai Soe, in a letter of condolence for Mg Khant Nyar Hein, wrote that it was “a letter stained with my tears. No matter how hard I tried to hold them back, tears rolled down on my face”.
He described the student’s killers as “totally inhumane. [They] do not act like human beings at all. The world is now saying Myanmar people are not humans”.
“Because of them [the military], Myanmar people can no longer raise their heads in the world. You killed a son, who was empty-handed. You aimed at him calmly and shot him precisely, dragged his body like a dog. In my eyes, in my brain, in my heart, it will never disappear! No matter how I try to console myself, no matter how I try to erase this, it won’t.”
So far, a total of 2,191 people have been detained, charged or sentenced since the coup. Half of the detainees are students and young people, according to AAPP.
More than 400 students from Yangon, of whom 176 are from the University of Yangon, have been detained in Insein Prison since 3 March, according to the University of Yangon students’ union (UYSU).
Around “322 students were arrested during a peaceful strike in Tamwe, Yangon, and are detained in the Insein Prison. They were charged under Penal Code 505(A) for so-called attempted treason. They cannot be charged with a crime they never committed”, said UYSU in a statement.
Student leaders have been brutally beaten and tortured. Some underage students have been released, according to a student released this week appearing in a video made by ABFSU, saying the soldiers assumed there would be more student leaders among those detained.
Arrested students were tortured by the soldiers who beat them when they were questioned. “They are being forced to kneel all night and are being tortured in other ways. After I was released, my brothers [student leaders] told me to continue to fight for them to get victory,” he said.
Various professors from Yangon’s universities have tried to get the students freed but were unable to meet them.
“ABFSU Vice-President Ko Wai Yan Phyo Moe has been charged under section 505 (a) of the Penal Code which [means he] can be in prison up to three years,” an ABFSU member told University World News.
Family members are not allowed to meet them either. “At a time when the rule of law does not prevail, it is very sad that even a lawyer like me can do nothing,” a 32-year old prosecutor who is helping the students and protesters told University World News.
Zaw Wai Soe was also charged with attempted treason under section 505 of the Penal Code by the State Administration Council, after he was appointed as union minister by the CRPH last week. The military announced it will also charge him under section 122 of the Penal Code for treason. Section 122 carries a maximum penalty of death.
The military imposed martial law on six townships in Yangon this week. Mobile internet has been shut down, though internet connections in buildings are functioning. The military authorities announced Wi-Fi will also shut down starting from Thursday without providing any further detail on when it could be restored.
The students who were charged will appear in court via video conferencing on 25 March. However, according to lawyers, if mobile internet is shut down, the court cannot proceed with video-conferencing. State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s virtual court hearing was also cancelled this week due to ‘internet issues’ and postponed to 24 March.