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Nine sentenced for plough protest in Meikhtila

Activist Myint Myint Aye is led into a Meikhtila courthouse on 26 May 2015. (PHOTO: DVB)

Nine people, including three farmers’ rights activists, have been sentenced to prison terms ranging from two to five months in connection with a plough protest held on military-held land in Mandalay Division’s Meikhtila District.

The Meikhtila district court on Tuesday jailed six farmers from the village of Kanthar in Wundwin Township to five months in prison under Penal Code Articles 477 and 427, for trespassing and vandalism, respectively. Three activists, including Myint Myint Aye of the Meikhtila People’s Assistance Network, were sentenced to two months in prison for trespassing.

“The farmers were sentenced to serve their prison terms separately – two months under Article 447, and three months under Article 427. The activists were sentenced to two months each,” said Han Su Yi, defence lawyer for the farmers.

According to local residents, in 1991 Maj. Nyan Tun Aung – the then-commander of the Meikhtila Air Force base and current incumbent Minister of Transport – oversaw the seizure of farmland belonging to residents of a village tract named Nyaungokphe in Wundwin. They say no compensation has ever been paid since the land was confiscated.

“Our farm plots were seized by the following persons: Maj. Nyun Tun Aung, the Minister of Transport; a village chairman named Chit Htay; and a wealthy man from the town named Lwin Kyaw Htay,’ said local resident Kyaw Myint. “They used the land to operate a fish farm.”

Kyaw Myint told DVB that the farmers had filed complaints several times with senior government officials but had been repeatedly ignored. In 2013, after staging a symbolic plough protest, they were arrested and charged with several counts including sedition. They have appeared in court over 70 times since.

Following the 26 May sentencing, the group were transferred to Meikhtila prison where they will serve their terms.

Plough protests have become popular methods of public demonstration in recent years, as farmers and their supporters try to reclaim lands that were seized from them by corrupt officials or the military or both, often back in the 1990s during the military junta era of Snr-Gen Saw Maung and Snr-Gen Than Shwe.