February 24, 2020 / 11:34 AM / a month ago

Myanmar students face charges over internet shutdown protest: student union

YANGON (Reuters) - A Myanmar student union said on Monday police were seeking to press charges against nine of its members for organizing a protest against an eight-month-long internet shutdown in the restive west of the country.

Protesters march against internet shutdown in Rakhine state in Yangon, Myanmar, February 23, 2020. Picture taken February 23, 2020 . REUTERS/Stringer

Around 100 students gathered in the commercial capital of Yangon on Sunday demanding an end to the internet cut-off in Rakhine and Chin states, where civilian casualties are mounting as government troops battle ethnic rebels.

A case has been filed under section 19 of the Peaceful Assembly Law, which outlaws unauthorized assemblies and carries a maximum three-month prison sentence, the Arakan Student Union said in a statement on Sunday.

“We are students and citizens pointing out the wrongdoings of government,” Kyaw Linn, one of the students who took part, told Reuters by phone. “They violated our citizens’ rights.”

Six of the students had been taken into police custody, he said, adding that the group had not applied for permission because it may have been refused or forced a delay in the march.

An officer from Yangon’s Kamaryut township, where the protest took place, declined to comment when contacted by Reuters. Another hung up the phone. Government spokesman Zaw Htay said he could not answer questions over the phone.

If convicted, the students face a fine or up to three months in jail or both.

Authorities shut down mobile internet access in nine townships in Chin and Rakhine, also known as Arakan, last June citing security reasons. While the block was later lifted in five townships, it was reinstated in early February.

Protests against the shutdown were also held in several townships of Rakhine state on Saturday.

Rakhine state was the site of a military crackdown in 2017 that forced more than 730,000 minority Rohingya Muslims to flee to Bangladesh. The army described the crackdown as a legitimate counter-insurgency operation in response to attacks on security forces by Rohingya militants.

The region has been plunged into further chaos since December 2018 by fighting between the military and insurgents from the Arakan Army, which recruits from the mostly Buddhist ethnic Rakhine majority and is demanding greater autonomy.

Reporting by Yangon bureau; Editing by Alex Richardson and Jon Boyle

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