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Mandalay student activists sentenced, sing protest songs in court

Student activists Zaw Ye Htet, Hnin Aung, Ye Myo Swe and Kaung Zaw Hein pictured before entering Chanaye Tharzan township court in Mandalay on 9 May 2017. (PHOTO: Aung Aung Naing/DVB)

Four student activists sang protest songs in court today as they were each sentenced to four months in prison for staging a rally outside a government education office in Mandalay last month, during which they decried Burma’s education system, labelling it “military-style oppression”.

Sagaing Institute of Education students Zaw Ye Htet and Hnin Aung, and Mandalay University students Ye Myo Swe and Kaung Zaw Hein, all of whom are members of the All-Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU), were sentenced this morning at Chanaye Tharzan township to a total of four months each in prison – three months under Article 19 of the controversial Peaceful Procession and Peaceful Assembly Law, and an additional 30 days in jail for contempt of court.

According to their colleague and former political prisoner Soe Moe Tun, who attended this morning’s hearing, the four defendants chanted political songs during sentencing, prompting police to haul them violently from the courtroom at the conclusion of the hearing.

“They were sentenced to three months each under the Article 19, and were given the option of an additional 20,000 kyat [US$15] fine or one-month imprisonment for contempt of court,” he said. “They chose to take the jail time.”

He added: “They were charged with contempt of court for boycotting their trial on 28 April, when they declared they had no confidence in the justice system under the current constitution.”

He said that, in the courtroom today, the four demanded that their handcuffs be removed during the hearing. When their request was denied, they began singing political songs, which they continued throughout the trial proceedings. After sentencing, Soe Moe Tun said, they were each hauled from the courtroom violently by police and thrown in the back of a waiting prison van.

Soe Than Maung, the father of defendant Kaung Zaw Hein, said that protests against the government and the 2008 constitution are likely to continue until the controversial charter is amended.

“As long as the 2008 constitution is in place, the government will have to face these demonstrations from students, farmers and others,” he said. “In my opinion, the entire country needs to come together to scrap the constitution.”