Seventy students remain in detention in Myanmar for joining protests against the proposed National Education Law, which critics believe would give the central government excessive power in managing the country’s higher education institutions. Most of the detained students were arrested in a police crackdown on March 10, 2015.
There have been several street protests across the country since last year when the parliament introduced the measure. Because of the demonstrations, lawmakers called for negotiations with several student groups. The bill was approved last month, but protesters have continued to oppose the new draft.
The violent dispersal of student rallies last March generated a public outcry that forced the government to announce a probe into the incident. Human rights groups and students from around the world also demanded the release of the detained student protesters.
One of the people supporting the campaign calling for the immediate release of Myanmar's students is San Francisco-based artist Kenneth Wong. As a former student activist from Myanmar who joined the historic 1988 uprising, he deplors the imprisonment of the students who were merely voicing their views on legislation that could affect their schools.
To show his solidarity, he made digital portraits of five of the student prisoners, which have been widely shared on the Internet. In an email interview with Global Voices, Wong urged global leaders to speak up about the issue and demand accountability from the Myanmar government. He added:
25 years later, I'm sad to see these young students — the future of the country — paying a heavy price for demanding reform. I don't want them to have to spend the best years of their lives in prison. I think they belong in the classroom, not in prison. That's why I painted their portraits.