Protestors arrested for criticising Rakhine government’s handling of Covid-19 outbreak

Three students were arrested on Wednesday for a protest in front of the Rakhine State Government Office in Sittwe in which they criticised the official response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Toe Toe Aung, Kyaw Naing Htay and Than Naing, from the Rakhine State Students’ Union, also waved placards calling for the restoration of full access to the internet in Rakhine.

“They were arrested by the police twenty minutes into their protest,” a witness told Myanmar Now, requesting anonymity. “The cabinet office staff didn’t come out to take a look.”

Hpone Pyae Phyo, vice-chair of the Sittwe University Students’ Union, said the protest was a response to the local government’s failure to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

“They’re all talk and nothing of substance actually happens in reality,” he said. “So we don’t trust them.” 

He added: “It’s not just that, it’s about the Internet restrictions too.”

The protestors carried signs that read: “We do not trust the regional government”, “Reopen 4G internet” and “No Bloody Government, No Murder Government”.

“Are we not allowed to point things out to the government? Frankly, we question the true extent of this so-called democracy if a citizen can’t even point things out,” said Hpone Pyae Phyo.

The protestors also put up flyers in Mrauk-U, Minbya and Pauktaw. 

Asked to comment on the arrests, Rakhine government municipal affairs minister Win Myint offered a cryptic response. 

Students protest in front of the regional government office in Sittwe (DMG)

“That’s their belief,” he told Myanmar Now. “We can’t stop that in the same way that no one can stop my belief. They’re doing their job.”

“You can’t take advantage of something like this. There are records and lists. This isn’t a monastery, where you can just do your finances that simply. Everything has to go through different government groups,” he added.

The union and state governments have spent a total of 16.7bn kyat on efforts to tackle the spread of Covid-19 in the state, Rakhine state chief minister Nyi Pu said during a meeting with State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi that was streamed online late last month.

On August 22, a Sittwe resident who criticised the regional cabinet was arrested and charged under 66d, the anti-defamation law.

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