Khin Thayaphy Oo | DMG
February 24, Yangon
Nine participants of a demonstration demanding the restoration of internet access in nine townships of Arakan and Chin states are facing charges under the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law, with five of the nine arrested on February 24, the Arakan Students Union said.
The All Burma Federation of Student Unions, Yangon University of Economics Students’ Union (Ywarthargyi) and Arakan Students Union (Universities – Yangon) came together in Yangon on February 23 to protest the months-long internet ban in parts of western Myanmar.
The Arakan Students Union said that Ko Myat Hein Tun and Ko Kyaw Linn from the Arakan Students Union (Universities – Yangon), and Ko Naung Htet Aung, Ko Thuta Soe, Ko Zaw Htet Naing, Ko Aung Pyaysone Phyo, Ko Thet Tin Aung, Ma Aye Myat Mon Kyaw and Ma Hnin from the All Burma Federation of Student Unions are facing charges at the Kamaryut police station.
Out of the nine, Ma Hnin, Ma Aye Myat Mon Kyaw, Ko Naung Htet Aung, Ko Thuta Soe and Ko Aung Pyaysone have been detained.
“They are being charged under Section 19 [of the Peaceful Assembly Law] because they demonstrated without seeking approval. Four to five people are being questioned at the moment,” said police officer Thein Han from the Kamaryut police station.
Ko Thaw Zin Tun from the Arakan Students Union said that detaining the protesters was an abridgment of their free speech rights.
“I think they have been arrested unfairly because they revealed the unfair things,” he said. “It shouldn’t be like this in a democratic country. I think that people are forced not to speak freely and the voices of communities are being shut down.”
Around 100 students joined the Yangon protest, marching from the Sinyay Twin bus station in Kamayut Township to Hledan Junction. In addition to calling for internet access to be restored, the students demanded accountability for the shelling of a school in Buthidaung Township, Arakan State, earlier this month, and advocated for the media’s right to report freely.
On February 22, the Arakan Students Union and Arakan Youth New Generation Network demonstrated together in Sittwe, Taunggup and Kyaukphyu, similarly demanding that the internet blackout be lifted.
The government cut off mobile internet access in Arakan State’s Buthidaung, Maungdaw, Rathedaung, Ponnagyun, Kyauktaw, Myebon, Mrauk-U and Minbya townships, as well as Paletwa Township in Chin State, on June 21. The restrictions were lifted in Buthidaung, Maungdaw, Rathedaung, Myebon and Paletwa townships on September 1, but were reimposed on February 3. President Office spokesperson U Zaw Htay has defended the internet ban as a temporary but necessary security measure.
Fighting between the Tatmadaw and Arakan Army in these townships has been fierce, and more than 100,000 people have been displaced by the conflict over the past year.
In addition to local civil society groups, international organizations and foreign embassies including the US and British missions in Yangon have also called on the government to restore internet access in the affected townships.