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Local farmers from Mandalay Division’s Sintgai Township were sentenced to prison terms of up to eight months on Tuesday under charges of trespassing and destroying property while staging a plough protest in May.
More than 1,200 acres were confiscated and handed over to the Burmese Army in 1989, who began renting it out to private companies. In May 2014, hundreds of villagers began ploughing the disputed land to signify that they had original ownership. Because of this, 15 farmers from Sintgai Township’s villages of Palate, Ywarthir, Seeson and Tatmyaw faced charges for involvement in the protest.
According to their lawyer, Thae Su Wai, the Sintgai Township court found 14 of the defendants guilty, and sentenced ten of them to eight months of imprisonment each. The remaining four received four-month prison terms, while the 15th person had his charges dismissed because of a lack of evidence.
Thae Su Wai added that she is preparing to appeal the verdict at the Kyaukse District court on behalf of her clients.
Soe Win, a local farmer in the area who joined the protest in May, said that about 400 farmers took part. He blamed the authorities for neglecting to address the protestors’ claims.
“We started the seven-day plough war on 16 May and up to about 400 locals joined us on some days. We continued working the land after seven days because there was no response or mediation from the authorities,” Soe Win said.
During the military regime, farmland was routinely confiscated by the government for state use, and since 2011, farmers have appealed to the nominally civilian government of Burmese President Thein Sein for the return of their land. Because of this, plough protests have become an increasingly popular form of demonstration for disgruntled farmers.