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Student activists are due to appear in Letpadan court on Wednesday morning after being held in nearby Tharawaddy prison for two weeks. They were arrested during a violent police crackdown in Letpadan for their part in education reform protests earlier this month.
Family members and reporters have been arriving at the Letpadan Township courthouse ahead of the hearing for activists who have been detained since 10 March. Security appears to be high at the vicinity, with a number of police and police vans. Students arrived at the court in police vans.
Meanwhile, following calls to release those detained who locals say were merely bystanders, 20 people were freed on 24 March. They too had spent two weeks in prison after being arrested alongside education activists during the police action in Letpadan.
The detainees were released from the Pegu Division jail on Tuesday afternoon.
“One female and 19 male detainees were released from Tharawaddy prison,” said an officer from the district police headquarters.
A 15-year-old boy was amongst those released. Ko Chit (also known as Tun Tun Naing) spent one night at Tharawaddy prison after his arrest before being transferred to Letpadan police station, because of his juvenile status, where he was held under house arrest for two weeks.
Ko Chit told DVB that he was not kept in a jail cell, and that he was treated well in custody.
“I was held under police guard, but not in a cell, and I was looked after well,” he said.
In a culturally familiar gesture of respect towards elders, the boy reported that he “plucked the station commander’s grey hairs” while detained.
“I felt very depressed in custody,” says Ko Chit, who was not allowed family visits until 20 March. “I saw other people going about in the street, and I wanted to go outside too. I was unhappy.”
Upon release, 25-year-old Letpadan resident Soe Min Aung, told DVB he had been beaten up and arrested by the police while on his way to buy construction materials.
“I was detained on 10 March in front of the Agriculture Department office, along with other locals. We all took several beatings,” said Soe Min Aung.
“At the Kyungalay intersection the police punched us, one after another, until we were bloody.”
A resident of Tharawaddy told DVB that the detainees were transported back to Letpadan by car after their release.
“They were taken in handcuffs from the prison to the district police station where they signed release forms. They were then sent back to Letpadan afterwards,” said Kyaw Naing Oo.
State media last week announced that the 127 detained individuals were being interrogated to determine whether they were “real students” who are enrolled in education courses. The state-run Global New Light of Myanmar reported that detainees were being released to their parents “based on empathy, leniency, and the intention to allow them to continue their studies.”
Burma’s information ministry has previously said “action will be taken” against those activists considered “masterminds” of the rally, in a statement on its website.
To track the chronology of the student protests, visit the DVB interactive map.