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Campaigners say Myanmar students face jail over anti-war pamphlet protest

YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar student representatives said on Tuesday that 14 students had been arrested and charged with offences carrying up to two years in jail after handing out pamphlets criticising the government and the military.

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Police said they did not have details of any arrests. A government spokesman was not immediately available to comment.

The detentions and charges were reported by the All Burma Federation of Students Unions (ABFSU), which represents the interests of students across the country, as well as campaign group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) and New York-based Human Rights Watch.

The ABFSU and HRW identified some of the students who had been arrested and Reuters saw four of those they named appear in court on Monday.

The ABFSU was at the forefront of pro-democracy protests that paved the way for the first civilian government in half a century coming to power and the arrests of its members come weeks before a Nov. 8 election that it has urged Myanmar citizens to boycott.

As part of a campaign which began in early September, leaflets containing slogans such as “dictatorship must fail” and “oppose murderous fascism” were distributed by students in towns and cities across the country. They also urged authorities to restore internet in the western state of Rakhine, where access has been curbed as troops battle ethnic insurgents seeking greater autonomy.

The ABFSU said the 14 students had been detained in raids on their homes or university campus since mid-September and later charged and that about a dozen others were in hiding.

“All we want is a country which values basic human rights and democratic standards,” a 21-year-old student among those in hiding told Reuters by phone.

An officer at a police station in Mandalay, where the four students appeared in court on Monday, referred questions to a superior, who was not available for comment. Police in Meiktila and Pyay townships, where campaigners said students were detained, told Reuters by phone they had no details.

The conflict in Rakhine has displaced tens of thousands of people and killed dozens since it flared in early 2019. The United Nations human rights chief has said civilians had been targeted or attacked indiscriminately in abuses that may amount to war crimes, accusations Myanmar denies.

The campaign groups said some of the students were charged under Sections 505(a) and (b) of the Penal Code on causing public alarm, which carry a maximum two-year prison sentence. Others were charged with unlawful protest, which carries a three month sentence.

Editing by Philippa Fletcher