Protests in Myanmar took a violent turn on Tuesday after police beat students, monks and reporters and detained about 100 people demonstrating against an education law that has been criticized for curtailing academic freedoms.
The crackdown occurred in Letpadan, where 200 protesters had been blocked by the police during their march southward from the city of Mandalay to Yangon.
Student-led protests against the education law had been held since last September, when Myanmar’s parliament passed the National Education Bill into law. Advocates who had suggested that the bill engender widespread education reform were dismayed by what they believed were increased government controls on academic institutions required by the new legislation.
After months of rallies, authorities held talks with student organizations to amend the law. On Feb. 14, the government agreed to a number of the students’ demands, such as the independent formation of curricula and the permission of ethnic minorities to hold classes in their native language.
However, the Education Ministry released a draft of its own bill three days later, suggesting that the agreement was only a proposal. After the announcement, students resumed protests.
A second attempt at talks on March 5 failed to produce results and tensions between protesters and law enforcement were heightened after eight arrests were made in Yangon on the same day.
Today’s incident has evoked global concern. Myanmar has cooperated more actively with international bodies since 2011, when the country initiated a series of democratic reforms after decades of military rule.
The European Union, which has been training Myanmar’s police force under its External Action program, called for an investigation into the police action.
On its Twitter page, the U.S. embassy in Myanmar said that “patience, compromise and restraint are foundations of stability and democracy.”
This also comes a day after a U.N. report lamented the government’s lacking commitment to reform, citing ongoing human rights violations.
The Interim Myanmar Press Council, a media advisory group that favors journalistic independence, has called for the release of the detained reporters.
While Burmese officials have yet to release a statement, the Information Ministry posted a photo on its Facebook page suggesting that the protesters had initiated the police reaction.