Fourteen students have been expelled from a Myanmar university after staging a campus protest calling for more education funding, an activist said Sunday, sparking concern over eroding freedoms in the fledgling democracy.
The four-day rally at Yadanabon University in Mandalay drew some 100 students before it was broken up by police on January 25.
It was the first student protest under Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian administration, which took power in early 2016.
Students were key drivers of political activism under the former military regime, which violently cracked down on dissent during its 50-year reign.
Many had hoped Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate and former political prisoner, would usher in a new era of freedom.
But a rash of defamation cases and arrests of journalists, plus lingering censorship in the arts, have dampened optimism and triggered alarm that freedoms are backsliding.
The latest case to draw rebuke was the expulsion of 14 students in Mandalay, who participated in the rally calling for more national spending on education.
“We… were given a letter saying that we were expelled for breaking regulations,” Kyaw Thiha Ye Kyaw, a 22-year-old law student at Yadanabon, told AFP.
“Our demands are not for us… but for all students and all educational staff around Myanmar,” he added.
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.”
Other officials could not be reached for comment.
Yan Myo Thein, an Myanmar analyst and former political prisoner, slammed the “harsh decision” by a government that was “lifted on the shoulders of generations of students.”
“This decision neglects the many sacrifices made for Myanmar’s democracy,” he said, adding that the government should consider the students’ demands.
Myanmar’s education system deteriorated dramatically after a bloody junta crackdown on a student-led uprising in 1988, which left up to 3,000 dead and saw the rise of Suu Kyi’s opposition.
Many students were killed or expelled from school, while universities were shuttered for several years.
Shortly after taking office, Suu Kyi delivered on a pledge to free dozens of students jailed in 2015 for leading protests calling for education reforms.