The Arakan Students’ Union campaigned on Friday morning at the central market in Sittwe, calling for the unconditional release of students detained in prisons across Myanmar for anti-war campaigns, as well as all other political prisoners.
The campaigners demanded justice for the missing residents of Tinma village and those who have suffered from human rights violations over the course of fighting in Arakan State, also calling for the resumption of 4G internet services in parts of Arakan that currently only have access to 2G mobile data services.
They also called on the government to release students who have been detained in prisons for months without trial, accusing the government of postponing their trials by using COVID-19 as an excuse.
“The campaign is called Arakan in the Darkness. We want the unconditional release of student activists who were detained for their anti-war campaigns across the country as well as political prisoners,” said chairman Ko Toe Toe Aung of Sittwe University Students’ Union.
In the first four years since the National League for Democracy taking power, from April 2016 to March 2020, 539 lawsuits were filed against 1,051 people for allegedly raising criticisms against the government, according to Athan, an advocacy group for freedom of expression.
More than 60 were charged for raising the Arakan issue and over 20 of them were given prison sentences, said Athan.
“Regarding the Tinma villagers, they had gone missing for quite a long time. And we have seen in reports that their relatives were even threatened for filing missing person reports. We have conducted the campaign to highlight that people do not receive protection, but instead they are receiving threats in a so-called democracy,” said Ko Toe Toe Aung.
Little has been heard about 18 Tinma villagers since they were allegedly abducted by Myanmar’s military from their homes in Kyauktaw Township in March 2020.
Citing security concerns, the government imposed an initial internet shutdown in the Arakan State townships of Buthidaung, Maungdaw, Rathedaung, Ponnagyun, Kyauktaw, Myebon, Mrauk-U and Minbya, as well as Paletwa Township in Chin State, on June 21, 2019.
Restrictions were eased by August of last year to allow for 2G access, but the inadequacy of that network has been well-documented in the months since.