Ten miners from Mandalay’s Yamethin Township have been sentenced to one and a half years in prison following months of protest against privatisation of the Moehti Moemi gold mines.
Protests over the Moehti Moemi mines have been relentless since June 2013, shortly after a private company, Myanmar National Prosperity Co Ltd (NPPCL), reneged on a five-year agreement for joint-venture with local operators.
When NPPCL won a government tender for a 6,015-acre site, the company vowed to work with small-scale miners who had been working the mines independently for years. Locals say that the company neglected the agreement and left them severely disadvantaged among incoming large operators.
Making matters worse, a nationwide ban on small-scale mining left thousands of miners abruptly jobless. After being evicted from the mines in 2013, they found refuge in a nearby monastery, which also served as a protest site.
Hundreds of people were said to have occupied Shwemyintin Hill, on monastic grounds near the Moehti Moemi site, and more than 25 people have faced charges related to the ongoing protests. In March, 50 people were detained during an early morning raid on their protest camp, which they had been ordered to evacuate.
Sixteen people were originally sued by Yamethin’s township administrator, arraigned on charges of inciting unrest, defamation of the state, disturbing civil servants and breaking curfew. Six of them have since accepted compensation from private stakeholders and ceased opposition to the project.
The remaining ten were sentenced on 21 May. Each received one year for violating Article 505(b), three months under Article 188 and three months under Article 143.
“I think the sentences are really unfair,” one miner remarked to DVB, in tears outside the courthouse. “We aren’t defying the authorities, it was just a dispute between an employer and their employees.”
Another Moehti Moemi worker said sentencing is indicative of pressure being put on the miners to accept a settlement scheme from the company in exchange for amnesty. This agreement would also legally strip them of the right to bring any further complaints against the company regarding their lost homes and jobs.
“There were 16 of us detained on the same charges, but on 7 May they dropped charges on six [who accepted the scheme]. This led me to think the authorities, police and the court are in cahoots with cronies,” he said.