Burmese prodemocracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi pledged on Wednesday to help revive a banned national student rights organization whose leaders fueled a 1988 revolt that was brutally suppressed by the then military junta, according to the group’s spokesperson.Aung San Suu Kyi, fresh from taking her seat in Parliament, gave the assurance at a meeting with nine leaders of Burma’s student unions at her home in Rangoon, said Thiha Win Tin, one of the student leaders present at the talks.

The All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU), an umbrella organization for all student unions in Burma and a voice for academic freedom and student rights, was banned more than two decades ago but has continued to operate underground.

“She said she would help us to study about the structure of international student union,” Thiha Win Tin told RFA’s Burmese service.

“She accepts that the student union is legal. In every democratic country, there must be a student union, and so she will help us so that we can exist more openly and legally,” he said.

At the moment we all are banned from attending school [if you are a student union leader]. She said she will help us to regain our rights in this legal matter.”

The ABFSU has been organizing local unions in Burma, but the group says it has faced threats and intimidation from the authorities.

According to reports, the group has most recently faced harassment in Myaungmya District, in Western Burma’s Ayeyarwady region, where local police, military intelligence, and fire department police have been collecting information about student union members.

Members said authorities had been coming to their homes in Wakema township during the middle of the night, threatening their parents, and taking copies of their residency and ID cards, as well as taking note of their majors at school.

Democracy activists

The ABFSU has long been an advocate for democracy in Burma and a critic of rights abuses committed by the former military government known as the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) accused of blatant human rights abuses.

In 1988, during mass demonstrations in the streets of the then-capital Rangoon calling for democratic change, the ABFSU helped to coordinate democracy actions under the leadership of Min Ko Naing, which led to the ’88 Uprising.

That movement was brutally crushed by Burma’s military junta, leaving thousands dead by some estimates.

Min Ko Naing, whose nom-de-guerre means “conqueror of kings,” was released from prison as part of a pardon by Burmese President Thein Sein in January after spending the majority of time since the ’88 Uprising incarcerated.

Since 1990, the ABFSU has thrown its support behind Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) opposition party, which achieved a landslide victory in national elections that year. Burma’s then-ruling junta refused to give up power, however, and instead placed Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest.

Aung San Suu Kyi was released following general elections in November 2010, which saw Thein Sein’s nominally civilian government take power, but which prompted the NLD to disband in protest as they saw the polls as being neither free nor fair.

As part of a new reformist agenda, the government allowed the NLD to reregister and take part in parliamentary elections in April.

The party handily won 43 out of the 44 seats it contested and Aung San Suu Kyi was also elected as a member of parliament.

The Nobel laureate’s father, national independence hero Aung San, was a former leader of the ABFSU in the 1930s.

Reported by RFA’s Burmese service. Translated by Khin May Zaw. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.