Nine out of 12 female farmers, arrested for protesting against a copper mine in Monywa in Sagaing division earlier this week, claim to have been beaten by the police before being released from jail on Tuesday.
The women say police assaulted them when they refused to leave the premises without their three fellow protesters, who had been moved from the police station.
“We said we wouldn’t go without Aye Net and Thwe Thwe Win and then we were put in a room by a policeman and a policewoman. They pulled our hair, twisted our arms and waist and pushed us on the ground. They took Thwe Thwe Win to an unknown place on a truck,” said Mi Swe, one of the released protesters.
The nine farmers were released from Monywa police station-1 in the early hours of Tuesday, while three others – identified as Thwe Thwe Win, Aye Net and Phyu Phyu Wn — were taken to an undisclosed location. According to Mi Swe, violence ensued when they pressed the police for their whereabouts.
Authorities have stepped up security in Monywa Township as mass protests against a controversial copper mine project continue to spread. Roads to the police station have been blocked and barbed wire fences installed.
Ye Yint Kyaw, a member of Monywa District’s Students Union, who led a protest against the 12 famers’ arrest, said some of their houses had been searched by the authorities.
“My house, and Ko Nwe Oo and Ko Htin Sha houses were searched as well as Ko Hein Zaw Win’s,” said Ye Yint Kyaw.
Monywa Police Station-1 was unavailable for comment.
On Monday, district authorities arrested the 12 farmers for organising a two-day Buddhist prayer rally at the historic Sutaungpyi Pagoda in Monywa town.
Authorities used boats to block off jetties where locals were boarding ferries headed to the prayer rally.
“We tried to go and join the prayer on [Sunday and Monday] but the ferries were being blocked from leaving the jetties – a boat manager said the order came from the district’s police commander,” said a resident from Wet Hmay village.
A bystander in Mongywa said 12 participants including organiser Thwe Thwe Win were arrested by the police when they arrived at Nanchun jetty.
Residents in Monywa district’s Salingyi township have been protesting for months against the massive copper mining project in the area, which is a joint-venture between the military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings and China’s Wanbao Company.
The mining project has led to the confiscation of about 7,800 acres of farmland in total and forced farmers from 66 villages in the area to relocate.
Farmers were provided compensation for the loss of their crops for up to three years; however, most of the residents have said that isn’t enough while others have complained that they received no reimbursement.
Inhabitants of the villages – Kan Taw, Wet Hmay, Sae Teh, See Taw – were given until December last year to move out. Officials said they would berelocated close to the highway connecting Monywa to the town of Bassein, but they complain it will leave them destitute.