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Fourteen activists from Rangoon’s Michaungkan Township on Wednesday were sentenced to imprisonment for six months each for staging a sit-in at the gates of the City Hall.
The sit-in was one of a number of protests that have been held by the activists decrying a historic land grab that took place in 1990. Protestors say they were evicted from their homes in the suburban township of Rangoon when the Burmese military seized their land.
Robert San Aung, a renowned human rights lawyer who is acting as legal counsel for the group, told DVB that 14 people were sentenced at the court in Kyauktada Township, 12 of whom were women, including at 68-year-old.
The 14 were arrested on 23 December 2014 when authorities dispersed their camp at the gates of the City Hall in downtown Rangoon.
“The defendants were facing two charges under Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law … They also faced additional charges under articles 143 [unlawful assembly] and 341 [wrongful restraint] of the Penal Code,” Robert San Aung said.
“The judge sentenced them all to one month under each of the Article 18 charges – in total two months – and to three months under Article 143, plus a further month under Article 341. This is six months altogether.”
“Jailing people is not the way to solve a problem. Rather, it will exacerbate it,” he added.
Before moving to the City Hall site, former Michaungkan landowners had established a camp in 2014 that occupied Maha Bandula Park in Rangoon for seven months.
In August, a 72-year-old protestor died at the encampment after 138 days at the park. After the woman passed away her fellow activists reiterated that nothing would make them accept the loss of their land, even death. The camp was eventually forcibly cleared.
In July 2014, Sein Than, a community leader from Michaungkan, was arrested and jailed for staging an unauthorised protest. His detention was met with a symbolic hunger strike.
During Burma’s military era, land was routinely confiscated by the government for state use. But ever since Burma transitioned to a quasi-civilian government in 2011 protests have become increasingly common as villagers attempt to reclaim their assets.
New land legislation introduced in early 2012 was met with major criticism. In particular, critics have argued that the new laws legitimise government and corporate land-grabs while offering little protection to individuals. A government commission established in 2012 to resolve thousands of land-grab claims has yet to make progress on the majority of claims it has received.