(Reuters) – Myanmar police detained three students after breaking up an anti-government demonstration in the restive Rakhine state on Wednesday, a student group and a human rights body said on Thursday.
They said the three protesters, in their early twenties, had been taken away by police in the state capital of Sittwe after calling for the restoration of internet access, which officials say has been cut in swathes of Rakhine for security reasons, and holding placards that read “oppose murderous fascism”.
A police officer in Sittwe hung up the phone when contacted by Reuters for comment on the detention of the students.
Kyaw Nyunt Maung, the lawyer for the students, said they had been charged under sections 25 and 26 of the Natural Disaster Management Law, which outlaw causing a disaster through wilful or negligent act and carry maximum three and two year prison terms.
Rakhine state has been roiled for more than a year by fighting between government troops and ethnic insurgents from the Arakan Army, which is fighting for greater autonomy for the western region.
Tens of thousands have been displaced and dozens killed in shelling and crossfire.
Authorities in the region are also fighting an outbreak of the novel coronavirus, after detecting the country’s first cases of local transmissions in weeks in Rakhine in mid-August.
Thaw Zin Tun, a spokesman for the Arakan Students’ Union, the group that organized the protest, said on Thursday the three had been detained pending further investigation but there had been no contact with them since their arrest.
Burma Human Rights Network (BHRN), a U.K-based campaign group, said the three arrested were part of a group of students that had visited minority Rohingya camps outside Sittwe in recent weeks.
Tens of thousands of Rohingya, a Muslim minority in Rakhine state, are confined to camps and villages and deprived of rights including freedom of movement.
The state has long been a tinderbox of tension between Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine, a mostly Buddhist group that make up the majority.
Kyaw Win, founder of BHRN said the students were “an example of a way to a better future in Burma, yet have been criminalized and deprived of their freedoms”.
(Editing by Michael Perry and Philippa Fletcher)