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Interview with Arakan student leader: ‘If we’re going to be judged by dictators, we cannot accept arrest’
The youth sector in Arakan State is declining. The activities of the Arakan Students Union can be said to have been delayed. Why is it that the offices of the Arakan Students Union at the university have been closed? Activists were also arrested and prosecuted.
17 Sep 2023
17 September 2023, Sittwe
The Arakan Students Union organised the 56th anniversary of “rice crisis day” in Arakan State on August 13, a date of tragic brutality in 1967 under the rule of dictator General Ne Win and his Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP).
Daw Nyo Aye, chairwoman of the Rakhine Women’s Network (RWN), was arrested by Myanmar’s current military regime and charged under Section 505(b) of the Penal Code for incitement after she attended the event. The arrest and expected prosecution forced members of the Arakan Students Union to go into hiding. The spokesman for the union, Ko Oo Than Naing, recently spoke to DMG about the situation surrounding this year’s rice crisis day commemoration and its aftermath.
DMG: What activities has the Arakan Students Union undertaken since the coup [on February 1, 2021].
Ko Oo Than Naing: The offices of our student unions were sealed off after the coup. So, we could not fulfil the requirements of schools and students like we did before. But we have been working together with our partner organisations to address student issues.
We have been helping people affected by Cyclone Mocha. We provided relief supplies to storm victims together with Muslim and Mro students. We also worked together with members of the Kaman party [the Kaman National Development Party] to demand successfully that Kaman students be allowed to attend school, after they were denied schooling [by authorities].
DMG: Tell us about the event that your union organised to mark the anniversary of rice crisis day?
Ko Oo Than Naing: We organised an event to mark the 56th anniversary of rice crisis day on August 13, at the Sittwe office of the Arakan Students Union. Twenty-five students joined the event. There were three things on the agenda, starting with prayers. Then Daw Nyo Aye recounted her experience [as a firsthand witness to rice crisis day]. And students recited poems.
Around 10 police officers arrested Daw Nyo Aye at her home on August 15. So, we issued a statement regarding the arrest of Daw Nyo Aye and [the junta’s] issuing of arrest warrants for event organisers.
DMG: What do you want to say regarding the junta’s arrest of women’s activist Daw Nyo Aye?
Ko Oo Than Naing: Daw Nyo Aye is just one of the many people [unjustly detained] in Arakan State. During the fighting, innocent civilians were arrested and jailed. She attended the August 13 event. She talked nothing about politics, she only shared her experience with us about rice crisis day. She did not tell young people to engage in politics. The regime took out its anger on her.
DMG: Questions have also been raised about the existing judicial system in Arakan State. Can you speak to that?
Ko Oo Than Naing: In the past, in the year 2020, the Arakan Students Union did a lot of public activities. Some members of the Arakan Students Union were arrested and charged under Section 505(a) of the Penal Code and were imprisoned at Sittwe Prison for many years. The trial process for the Arakan Students Union members was delayed due to absence of the plaintiffs and prosecution witnesses.
To put it plainly, the military regime cannot force people to trust the judicial system. That’s why the judiciary of the current military regime is only for dictators. If the judiciary in Myanmar stands up for the people, we will show up and face any lawsuit regarding any matter to be prosecuted. But if we are going to be judged only by the dictators, we cannot accept being arrested.
DMG: In post-coup Myanmar, what will be the role of young people in Arakan State?
Ko Oo Than Naing: The youth sector in Arakan State is declining. The activities of the Arakan Students Union can be said to have been delayed. Why is it that the offices of the Arakan Students Union at the university have been closed? Activists were also arrested and prosecuted.
Subsequently, the young people’s voices gradually faded. But the Arakan Students Union, as is its motto, must always be for the people. No matter how much the military regime oppresses us, we will never stop.