Yadanabon University in Mandalay, Burma has expelled 14 of its students over their role in a campus protest for a bigger education budget, the first student rally since Aung San Suu Kyi civilian administration took power in 2016.
The expulsion followed their brief detainment by the police for organising a four-day rally at Yadanabon University, which drew a crowd of about 100 students including those from nearby Meiktila, Sagaing, Monywa, Kyaukse, Mohnyin and Pathein.
“We… were given a letter saying that we were expelled for breaking regulations,” law student Kyaw Thiha Ye Kyan told AFP.
“Our demands are not for us… but for all students and all educational staff around Myanmar,” the 22-year-old added.
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The Irrawaddy reported that students from other universities have been dismissed by their respective schools as well. Up to 36 students could have been affected, according to the Myanmar Teachers’ Federation (MTF)
The expelled students believe the number of students dismissed from their schools have reached 40 by Monday.
“We think all 72 students who were detained will be expelled,” said Ye Myo Swe, a law student from Yadanabon University.
Mandalay’s chief minister Zaw Myint Maung refused to answer reporters’ questions about the case, saying only: “We are just acting according to the law.”
Attempts to reach other officials failed.
Led by Yadanabon students, the protest had called upon the government to increase the national education budget and improve campus facilities as well as educational materials before it was broken up by the police on January 25.
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Their subsequent dismissal has drawn rebuke from the Myanmar Teachers’ Federation (MTF). On Sunday, the MTF condemned the move and asked the ministry to reconsider.
“Dismissal of the students who protested for an increase in the education budget could scare students into not exercising freedom of expression in the future,” said Dr Sai Khaing Myo Tun, president of the MTF.
“The students can be given a warning to start, according to the rules and regulations at each university.”
Yan Myo Thein, a Burmese analyst and a former political prisoner, echoed MTF’s call for the ministry to reconsider its “harsh decision”.
“This decision neglects the many sacrifices made for Myanmar’s democracy,” he said.
Students say they will not appeal their expulsion and will continue the protest as well as for other other issues concerning student welfare.
“We will not return to class until the dismissals are abolished. We will not appeal our dismissals,” the students said.
“No matter what punishment is on the way, we will do what we have to do. If I am arrested, there will be another person who will carry on,” said Ye Myo Swe.
Mandalay was the centre of nationwide pro-democracy uprising in 1988. What began as a student movement in Yangon spread to the entire country where hundreds of thousands demonstrated against Burma’s socialist government then.
A bloody junta crackdown left up to 3,000 dead and many students were killed or expelled from school. Schools and universities were closed for several years.
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