Every Tuesday, the moss-covered redbrick courthouse in Tharrawaddy erupts into activity for a weekly ritual: the mass trial of student protesters. Under heavy guard at a session in late August, 81 students faced charges related to protests that were crushed by baton-wielding police in March. They are among a growing number of people caught in a crackdown on dissent as Myanmar heads towards a historic election in November, when the military-backed ruling party will compete with the ascendant National League for Democracy (NLD) party of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi in the first free national vote in 25 years.
The country will face a tense three months after the vote as elected politicians – and the still-powerful military – tussle over who will become president. Suu Kyi has called for international vigilance during this period. “A smooth and tranquil transition is almost more important than a free and fair election,” she said in a recent campaign stop.
Rights groups say the signs are not good, with Myanmar authorities increasingly bringing cases against students, land rights campaigners and other activists, who also complain of increased monitoring by the police’s feared Special Branch.
It’s a dramatic change from the mood when the military relinquished full power in 2011, which saw about 1,300 political prisoners released as part of reforms.
Full Article: As election looms, Myanmar trials target dissent | Reuters.