By: Jessica Ties
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia
NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar – Burmese authorities have detained and charged up to seven individuals, including a Burmese rights lawyer, following a peaceful demonstration opposing the confiscation of farm land.
The detainees were arrested following a staged sit-in that occurred in front of the government housing department in Yangon and were charged with unlawful assembly and refusing to comply with a police order to disperse. These charges carry a potential sentence of six to twelve months in prison for those charged.
The detained rights attorney, Pho Phyu, was taken by police to an unknown location where the vice police chief allegedly engaged in negotiations with him. Pho Phyu has been an advocate in the campaign for farmer’s rights and has used his legal expertise to help farmers petition the government to prevent their land from being seized from them by with little or no compensation in return.
Pho Phyu explained the reason for the protest when he stated, “we have approached parliament for help but nothing happened, so we decided to take to the street.” He also explained that, “at first, they promised that joint-venture farming would be carried out between the farmers and private businessmen on these lands but nothing happened.”
In addition to dispersing the crowd of approximately 100 individuals, the police also confiscated the group’s signs and banners.
The protesters alleged that government authorities have seized about 10,000 acres of land and did not adequately compensate the owners in return. This figure was confirmed by the deputy agriculture minister who has testified that several thousand acres of farmland have been confiscated for urban development and mechanized farming. In return for the land, the government’s housing department paid the farmers only 20,000 kyat, or twenty-six American dollars, per acre.
Approximately half of the workforce in Myanmar is employed in the agriculture sector but farmers do not generally have the money or legal resources to challenge the evictions compelling them to accept the offers made by the government.
Protests in Myanmar during the reign of the military government were rare and brutally suppressed by the military.
The land grab protests, however, come shortly after the government’s promise of democratic reforms following the acquisition of power by an elected government. The government’s reaction to the protest has been seen as a test of the new government’s commitment to reform. The lack of violence used in dispersing the protesters was seen by some as a positive sign of the government’s commitment to reform.
For more information, please see:
ABC News – Myanmar Police Charge Seven for Staging Land Protest – 28 October 2011
BD News – Farmers in Rare Myanmar Protest – 27 October 2011
Radio Free Asia – Police Breakup Rare Protest – 27 October 2011
Reuters – Myanmar Police Shut Down Rare Protest – 27 October 2011