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Hundreds rallied in the Karenni State capital Loikaw on Monday morning, expressing anger at the guilty verdicts handed down to six farmers from the local village of Dososhe, who were charged with trespassing. Four others were acquitted.
The demonstration was the second of its kind in consecutive weeks in support of fellow farmers who had taken part in a symbolic plough protest’ of land they claim was wrongfully seized by the Burmese military many years ago.
In August 2014, hundreds of residents from Solyaku village staged a symbolic ploughing. The army subsequently identified five protest leaders who it prosecuted for trespassing. In total, around 200 protest participants were questioned by authorities. Villagers say that since 1993 the Burmese army has confiscated more than 1,200 acres of their inherited land.
Three of the farmers from Solyaku were found guilty on trespassing charges last Monday at Hpruso township court. In both cases the defendants were handed sentences of 15 days in prison or a 500 kyat (US$0.50) fine.
After the hearing on Monday morning, hundreds of villagers gathered outside the Loikaw courthouse in solidarity with the defendants from both Dososhe and Solyaku, before staging a rally through the town, denouncing the verdict, said Thae Reh, chairman of the Karenni State Farmers Union.
“We wanted to express our disappointment at the judges’ decisions in these cases,” he said. “We cannot accept the guilty verdict passed on these farmers who have worked the land for generations – while the Burmese army only arrived in the area just over ten years ago.”