Another Myanmar student leader arrested, days before vote

Supporters of Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) setting up a stage in Yangon on Nov 5, 2015.
Supporters of Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) setting up a stage in Yangon on Nov 5, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

Yangon (AFP) - A Myanmar student leader has been arrested just days before landmark polls, a relative said on Thursday (Nov 5), after another activist was detained for rallies in March, sparking fears of a return to junta-era tactics.

The arrest of Lin Htet Naing, also known as James, comes as anticipation builds for Sunday's general election, billed as the freest and fairest in decades.

But as the polls have approached Myanmar has faced increasing condemnation from rights groups over a government crackdown on free speech.

James was arrested in Insein township in Yangon on Tuesday evening. Ne Win, his father-in-law, told AFP, nearly eight months after protests in the central town of Letpadan and Yangon calling for education reform.

"He faces five charges," said Ne Win, without elaborating on the details. "He will appear at court today and tomorrow." Like Kyaw Ko Ko - president of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions who was detained last week - James had been in hiding from police since the March protests, which were brought to an end in a violent crackdown.

A police officer, who did not want to be named, confirmed the arrest.

"(James) was arrested in Insein on a bus. He's in Insein prison now and will have to face charges," the official said.

More than 50 students are already detained and awaiting trial near Letpadan over the education reform protests, as rights groups accuse Myanmar of returning to tactics of suppression used under military rule.

President Thein Sein's government has been widely praised for its raft of political and economic reforms, leading to the removal of most Western sanctions, but is increasingly coming under fire for backsliding on human rights issues.

In a rare call in September, Myanmar's national human rights body urged the government to take legal action against police who beat up education protesters in Letpadan.

Later Thursday police arrested a poet in Yangon who went into hiding last month after posting on Facebook a verse about having the president's portrait tattooed on his penis.

The poem did not clarify whether the president was Myanmar's former general Thein Sein.

Maung Saungkha has been arrested and is under interrogation, a police officer told AFP on condition of anonymity, without providing further information.

Last month two Myanmar activists were arrested over Facebook posts about the military.

The army retains massive sway in the country despite outright military rule being replaced with a quasi-civilian government in 2011.