Case History: Po Po
On 8 April 2016, the Tharawaddy court dismissed the cases of 69 student human rights defenders and their supporters, who had been on trial since the police crackdown on peaceful student protests in 2015.
Po Po is a member of the All Burma Federation of Student Union (ABFSU). Since November 2014, student organizations like ABFSU have been protesting against the National Education Bill, which activists and independent experts claim restricts academic freedom. Enacted by Parliament on 30 September 2014, the National Education Law was intended to reform the country's education system, but opponents claim the government did not seek adequate student input in its formation.
From 8 April 2016 to 12 April 2016, sixty-nine Burmese student human rights defenders, who had been detained since 2015, were freed. The student human rights defenders were on trial for over a year for protesting against the National Education Law. Dozens of other prominent Burmese human rights defenders were also freed following a presidential pardon.
On 11 April 2016, the Tharawaddy Court in Bago region released the General Secretary of All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) Ms Phyoe Phyoe Aung together with her husband following the announcement of the presidential pardon. Charges against other leaders of the ABFSU, including Ms Po Po, Mr Kyaw Ko Ko and Mr Nanda Sitt Aung, were also withdrawn and they have been released. All Burma Federation of Student Unions is a student organisation that has been heavily involved in protests against the National Education Bill since November 2014, which they claim restricted academic freedom when enacted by Parliament on 30 September 2014. Members of the ABFSU insist on the adoption of ethnic languages in school curricula and the right to form student and teacher unions.
Prominent activists, such as Ms Nilar Thein, a member of 88 Generation Peace and Open Society Group, a former students group established to work for peace and to promote and protect civil society in Myanmar, and the labour and land rights defender and chairperson of Myanmar's Farmers Union, Ms Su Su Nway, have also been pardoned and released.
On 8 April 2016, the Tharawaddy Court dismissed the cases of sixty-nine student human rights defenders and their supporters, who had been on trial since the police crackdown on peaceful student protests in 2015. Most were accused of violating the Peaceful Assembly Law and faced charges under articles 143, 145, 147 and 505(b) of Myanmar's Penal Code, which concern unlawful assembly, rioting, incitement, and causing harm to a public servant. Some were facing charges from various townships where the education reform protests occurred and some were already serving their sentences when pardoned by the President. Their release took place over the course of several days.
The Presidential power to grant pardon is based on section 204(a) of the Constitution and article 401(1) of the Code of Criminal Procedure that gives the President the authority to release prisoners at his or her discretion but stipulates that they can be returned to prison at any time to serve out the remainder of their sentence. Those human rights defenders who had been arrested but not yet convicted were pardoned based on section 494 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which allows cases to be dropped even after a trial has begun. The reliance on the mentioned articles allowed the President to bypass the otherwise required approval of his decision by the National Defence and Security Council, comprised primarily of representatives of the old military government, and therefore quickly implement his decision to grant pardon.
Front Line Defenders welcomes the decision of the government of Myanmar to grant pardon to student human rights defenders and other prominent human rights defenders in the country and dismiss their cases, as it believes that they were persecuted solely because of their peaceful and legitimate work in defence of human rights in Myanmar. Front Line Defenders, however, calls on the government of Myanmar to release those human rights defenders that remain in detention and to undertake measures to reform the country's repressive legal framework.
Student activist Po Po spent the night of Thursday, 8 April 2015, in a Kamayut Township jail. The 20-year-old human rights defender was arrested that day from her home, less than a month after a Kamayut Township Judge issued an arrest warrant for Po Po and fellow student activists Myat Thuya, Nanda Sitt Aung and Kyaw Ko Ko.
Po Po is a member of the All Burma Federation of Student Union (ABFSU). Since November 2014, student organizations like ABFSU have been protesting against the National Education Bill, which activists and independent experts claim restricts academic freedom. Enacted by Parliament on 30 September 2014, the National Education Law was intended to reform the country's education system, but opponents claim the government did not seek adequate student input in its formation. According to local news outlet the Myanmar Times:
[Protestors and student unions] have also highlighted that [under the new law] ethnic languages, cultures and literatures will not be allowed to feature on any university syllabus. But most importantly, they say, the law means private universities will remain under the control of the education ministry and that both teacher and student unions will remain technically illegal.
A number of organisations, including ABFSU, presented a list of ten demands to the Parliament for an amended statute, which include the adoption of ethnic languages in school curricula and the right to form student and teacher unions.
Po Po was involved in the peaceful student protest in Letpadan on 10 March 2015, but escaped the violent police response to the movement, which resulted in the arrest of approximately 126 students. Along with Myat Thuya, Nanda Sitt Aung and Kyaw Ko Ko, Po Po went on to lead a protest in Yangon demanding the release of all students detained.
She is due to be arraigned on 10 April 2015, along with Nanda Sitt Aung, at the Kamayut Township Courthouse under articles 143, 145, 147 and 505(b) of the Penal Code. The charges against the pair are set to include participation in an unlawful assembly and rioting. The alleged offences carry penalties of up to three years in prison.