Local farmers of Madaya, Mandalay division have been charged with crimes ranging from sedition to trespassing and staging unauthorised protest after they took up tools and farmed land they claim is rightfully theirs.
Nineteen of 20 protesting farmers will face court on Tuesday.
Over 600 acres of farmland in Kyauksayit and Yaynanthar villages of Madaya, Mandalay are said to have been confiscated from 96 local farmers in 1986 under Ne Win’s Burmese Road to Socialism. The land was then distributed to other tenant farmers in the establishment of agricultural cooperatives.
A petition was lodged to Madaya authorities in January 2014 in an attempt to negotiate a return of the land. The ploughing protest was called as of 1 March when no response had been received.
“The Ministry of Cooperatives seized the land in 1986,” Nay Win, one of the farmers facing charges, told DVB.
“We had owned the land for generations — we even have bills proving that we paid land tax before the confiscation. It was legitimate farmland — not state owned or vacant land appropriate for government projects.
“We went back and ploughed the land on 1 March and they pressed charges on us for that — I am facing seven charges.”
In March, four farmers were charged with trespassing and vandalism in connection to the protests. However since then, more farmers have been implicated on stronger charges.
Myint Myint Aye, a farmers’ rights activist from Meikhtila Public Assistance Network said four of the farmers face sedition charges and two have been taken into custody in Mandalay’s Obo Prison.
“Two of the four are charged with article 505(b) of the penal code, sedition, for which bail is not possible. Zaw Win and Ye Yint Aung were arrested on 10 April in a restaurant in Mandalay and the other two will likely be detained in the court hearing tomorrow,” Myint Myint Aye said in a phone interview with DVB on Monday.
She added that the Upper Burma Lawyer’s Network would be providing legal assistance for the farmers and would represent them in the court.
Officers at Yaynanthar Police Station were not available for comment.
In a similar case, farmers in Yaynanthar have faced charges for ploughing an 80-acre land plot ostensibly taken to make way for a leprosy hospital.
In February, Burma’s Parliament passed a resolution urging the government to completely examine and close all settlement claims over land confiscation cases by September 2014.