Around 1,500 farmers from Mandalay Division’s Pyin Oo Lwin participated in a march on Monday to demand the return of 300,000 acres of farmland allegedly confiscated by the government and private companies.
Marching from Nyantaw festival grounds to the city’s government offices, the protestors — organised by the Farmers Union Organising Committee — also publicly condemned an incident in May when five farmers from Htonbo village, who were involved in a land dispute, were tied up and allegedly assaulted by hired thugs.
The protestors were then stopped by the police, who informed the rally’s organisers that they had not sought permission for the event and were therefore in violation of Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law.
Su Su Nway, a labour activist and coordinator for the Famers Union Organising Committee, argued that it was no longer necessary to obtain permission to hold a rally, as a bill amending Article 18 had just been passed by both the upper and lower houses of the Union parliament.
“According to the parliament, it is no longer required to seek permission. We did inform the authorities about the rally but we did not seek permission,” she said.
Despite police resistance, the farmers continued marching to demand the return of the land, which they said was left mostly fallow. They called on the government to mediate land disputes and to take legal action against the alleged perpetrator who ordered the attack on the five farmers.
Khin Maung Than, a resident of Kyaukphyadoe village, added that the farmers were also angry because the government had reneged on a promise to return all confiscated land that remains unused.
“Defence Minister Gen. Wai Lwin pledged to return land that had been left unused after it was confiscated, and President Thein Sein and military Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing have also promised the same,” Khin Maung Than said. “But no work has been done on the ground to implement this.”
According to Su Su Nway, the police have filed a case against her for organising the demonstration without obtaining permission in advance.