Police have detained an activist on charges of breaching Burma’s notorious Video Act after he allegedly filmed a protest by landless farmers in Irrawaddy division two months ago.
Myint Naing’s house in the division’s capital of Bassein was surrounded by some 30 officers in an early morning raid on Monday. The Human Rights Watchdog Network’s leader is being held at a local police station.
His lawyer, Phyo Phyu, said that Myint Naing was brought to the courtroom on the day of his arrest and denied bail.
“About 30 policemen including their commander surrounded [Myint Naing]’s house and charged him … under the Video Act for distributing and exhibiting a video that is not legally approved,” the lawyer said.
Up to 200 farmers had marched to the office of Irrawaddy division’s chief minister, Thein Aung, demanding that land confiscated from them by the army be returned.
That protest pre-empted a similar demonstration in Rangoonon 27 October that ended with eight people being arrested. One of those was Pho Phyu, who is now on bail.
Despite some signs that restrictions on freedom of speech in Burma are easing, the government’s intolerance towards public displays of disquiet remains. In September police detained a man for holding a solo protest against the Chinese-backed Myitosne dam and blocked another rally against the project, which was later suspended by the authorities in a rare response to public opinion.
Pho Phyu is accused by police of leading the Rangoon farmers’ protest, which also demanded the return of confiscated land. He claims that he was drugged during the 12 hours of interrogation he was subjected to.
The protestors are among some 1,000 farmers in three townships in Rangoon division whom since 1989 have seen more than 60,000 acres of arable land taken by the Burmese military, which often coverts them for cash crops or uses the land for infrastructural projects.
Despite the presence of the International Labour Organisation, which has a mandate to investigate instances of land confiscation in Burma, laws governing the ownership of land are malleable.
More than 60 percent of Burma’s population is dependent on agriculture as its primary source of income.