“Students are still in jail, I can’t just ignore them”

Aung Min Khine, a 16-year-old student protestor, Burma

Aung Min Khine, a 16-year-old student protestor, talks about how he was arrested, detained and severely beaten by over a dozen riot police during the crackdown on student protestors on March 10, 2015. He tells Noreen, an intern for the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), how his parents kicked him out from their house when they learnt he joined the protests, and how his teachers and classmates also dissuaded him. Later however, they all supported his cause fully.

article 2: Tell me your name, age, and which grade you are attending. How did you get involved in the student protests?

Aung Min Khine: I was born on 22 May 1999 and am attending grade 11 at Paungde Basic Education High School. As a student and chairperson of the Shwebo District Basic Education Students Union, I have connections with the All Burma Federation of Student Union. I started participating in the protests since the new education law was drafted. After the law was enacted, the students boycotted the law and started the protests again. On 20 January 2015, the Mandalay-Yangon primary protest march began.

article 2: Did your parents allow you to join the protests?

Aung Min Khine: At the time they did not allow it, and they could not understand me either. But now they accept it.

article 2: Without your parents’ support, what kind of difficulties did you face? When did you start following the main student protesters?

Aung Min Khine: I fought with my parents and they even kicked me out of the house. My teachers and friends also didn’t like my activities. I faced many kinds of problems. But now I have overcome all these difficulties. I am OK with my parents and my school now. I joined the protest from Palate Township located 15 miles from Mandalay on January 20. Since then, I didn’t go home until the police crackdown on the protesters.

article 2: What had happened on the day of the crackdown, 10 March 2015?

Aung Min Khine: The police had stopped our path to Yangon in Letpadan Township for almost a week. On that day I didn’t have my breakfast, and started shouting slogans and singing while the leaders were in discussion with the authorities. When we heard that the authorities would open the police line/gate, we were so happy that we didn’t have our lunch. However, the authorities changed their mind. So the students gave 45 minutes to negotiate, but it was like pouring water into the sand. Finally, we started pushing the police line, but failed. We tried a second time, and failed again. I was tired after two tries, so I went to a car nearby and took rest.

When I was sitting there, the police started attacking the protesters. They threw stones and heavy materials at the protesters, and beat them with batons. The police dragged me and one Buddhist monk from the car. When they started beating, I was hit on my one hand badly. So I comforted the injury with my other hand while trying to escape. The police pulled down my longyi when I was escaping. I tried to pick it up, they beat me again. I was taken by two police officers, but some 25 to 30 policeman came and beat my entire body all the way to the prison bus. I almost fainted because of my head injuries, however, fortunately one police helped me to stand, otherwise I may have hit my head on the concrete ground.

When we reached Tharawaddy prison, they applied some medicine to my injuries and bandaged them with gauze. Together with nine others who were most injured, I was placed in the Prison Hospital. We were offered rice which was so hard to swallow with no curry. Although we asked for congee, it also was not edible. I didn’t have a single meal the whole day, and my body was so painful that I couldn’t sleep at night. I was in hospital for three days.

article 2: How were you treated in prison? How was the health care, water, sanitation and food?

Aung Min Khine: At first, the police came to interrogate us. Although they didn’t torture us, they threatened us and called us “Communists”. I had to stay with 31 others; all of them were students, in one big room. The water was unclean, there were flies, we were bitten by mosquitos and insects, which made our skin itchy with allergies. We asked for mosquito nets, but no response. As the news started spreading about that, mosquito nets were provided. Though the place was big enough for all of us, we couldn’t sleep when it was raining at night, as water came inside from the windows. Food was sometimes good, sometimes bad, and when it was bad we could not eat.

article 2: Did the police and prison authorities know that you are underage?

Aung Min Khine: I told them, but there was no response, and I was detained like any other students and prisoners.

article 2: When did you meet with your lawyers?

Aung Min Khine: I met my lawyers and parents on the first day of the trial, 25 March 2015. Burma Lawyers’ Network helped all the students.

article 2: How did you get bail?

Aung Min Khine: My lawyers found out that I am under 16, so they applied for bail and for hearing my case in the juvenile court. I got bail on May 12.

article 2: Do you know how many sections are filed against you and which are the sections?

Aung Min Khine: I know there are five sections: 143, 145, 147, 332 and 505(b) of the Penal Code. They can put me in prison for 9 years and 6 months if I am convicted under all these charges.

[Section 143 of the Penal Code pertains to unlawful assembly, section 145 to joining or continuing in unlawful assembly, section 147 to rioting and section 332 to voluntarily causing harm to deter public servants. Section 505 (b) prohibits publishing or circulating information that may cause public fear or alarm and which may incite people to commit offences against the state or public tranquility.]

article 2: Are there any students in juvenile court with you?

Aung Min Khine: At first I was the only one, but later another student proved that he is underage, and his case was also transferred to the juvenile court.

article 2: I heard that in the court testimony, when the defence lawyers asked some police they said that they didn’t beat the students but just tend to do that. What is your opinion on that?

Aung Min Khine: They didn’t admit the truth. They are trying to hide whatever bad things they had done to us. If they are civil servants, they have to tell the truth. This government is also lying to us. People know how bad the authorities are, when they brutally crackdown on the protesters. I don’t want shameless government. I will fight against them until it changes.

article 2: What is your plan for the future, especially for the education bill and detained students?

Aung Min Khine: I will fight for the education law until we get what we demand for and will stand for my seniors who are still in jail (nearly 70 are still in prison). I will fight for them until they released.

article 2: Are you going back to school again?

Aung Min Khine: Yes. As I couldn’t sit for my final exam for grade 11 in March this year, I have to attend the same grade again in government school. When the monthly exam and court hearing days are the same, I skipped the exam to come to court.

article 2: How do your teachers and friends treat you?

Aung Min Khine: My friends are quite normal, but my teachers asked me not to participate in such activities again.

article 2: What was your response to that?

Aung Min Khine: I understand that they have responsibility to say that, so I appreciate it. But I can’t follow what they have said. As a student, I have a responsibility to fight to get a good education system. Everyone deserves better education. Our seniors in different decades too fought for changes. My fellow students are still in jail, I can’t just ignore them. I will fight till we reach our goal.

article 2: How is your health now?

Aung Min Khine: I suffer from headaches and dizziness whenever I study. Sometimes I can’t recall what I have learned.

article 2: Now you have reunited with your family and they understand you. Do you think that they will allow you to continue?

Aung Min Khine: Yes, I think so.

article 2: Thank you so much.

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