Four Burmese gold mine workers, who were arrested while leading a march to Naypidaw in November, were sentenced to six months imprisonment at a Pegu court on Thursday for protesting without permission and instigating public unrest.
The four men had led protests against the government’s decision to close the small Moehti Moemi gold mine in central Burma to make way for a major conglomerate, the Myanmar National Prosperity Public Company Limited (NPPCL).
The men, identified as Ye Yint Htun, Naing Win, Nay Aung Htet and Saw Naung, were arrested by police on 23 November 2012 in a small town near Naypidaw, along with forty other miners.
They were then charged for protesting without permission under article-18 of Burma’s controversial 2011 law on peaceful assembly and procession, and article 505(b) of the country’s draconian penal code for sedition.
“They were fined 10,000 Kyat (USD$12) and given six months imprisonment each under the [sedition charge],” said Ei Mon Kyaw, wife of one of the protestors.
But according to Ei Mon Kyaw, the workers were first coerced into abandoning their dispute with the mining company.
She said that representatives for the four men had met with the NPPCL and Burma’s Mining Ministry on Wednesday, where they were asked to sign an agreement to abandon the dispute in exchange for their freedom. The next day they were jailed.
“The company representatives said they would do the best they can to get the four released. So we were very hopeful that they would be freed soon, but then it turned out today that they have been given six months each,” she said.
Employees from the Moehti Moemi gold mine had staged a series of peaceful protests throughout the summer after the Ministry of Mining ordered the closure of their workplace. Several earlier rounds of negotiations with the NPPCL and the government had failed to reach a resolution.
Today’s sentence comes after a string of government attacks on peaceful protestors. In November, the Burmese regime attracted widespread criticism for its brutal crackdown on peaceful protestors near the Chinese-backed Latpaudang copper mine in Monywa, which resulted in over 80 monks being severely burnt. A number of activists in Monywa and Rangoon were later arrested for protesting the assault.
The four men are planning to appeal today’s sentence.