Two farmers were hospitalized Tuesday in Paungtae Township, Pegu Division, when police violently clashed with supporters of an activist denied bail in a case relating to a long-running land protest, according to demonstrators.
Five farmers and activists from Thaekone Township, who have been leading a protest camp since Feb. 11, were summoned to the township court in Paungtae on Tuesday on charges of disturbing “public tranquility,” according to Kaung Htet Kyaw, an activist assisting the farmers in their protest campaign. The five are Pauk Sa, Daw Nyo, Daw Win, Thant Zin Htet and Kyaw Thu Aung, he said.
Farmers from Thaekone Township set up a protest camp nearly three months ago to call for the return of their land, which they say has been handed to a well-connected local businessman. They have written to Parliament’s land dispute commission, claiming that more than 1,000 acres of farmland in Thaekone and nearby villages was confiscated in 1999 and given to businessman U Htein three years later.
Kaung Htet Kyaw said Tuesday’s altercation occurred after Pauk Sa and two women activists attended their first hearing at the Paungtae court, where they are charged with Article 505(b) of Burma’s Penal Code over a protest they held against U Htein in April.
The article makes it a crime to act “with intent to cause, or in a manner that is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public or any section of the public, whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the State or against public tranquility.”
The judge did not grant bail for Pauk Sa, although the two women were allowed bail at 500,000 kyat (more than US$500), said Kaung Htet Kyaw.
As police tried to take Pauk Sa to the jail in Paungtae, a handful of farmers, outraged at the decision to keep him incarcerated, attempted to block their progress.
“But the police managed to put him in the truck. Then we followed to the Paungtae prison,” Kaung Htet Kyaw said. “When we arrived at the prison, the women told the police that if they take brother Pauk Sa to the prison, they would also go in.
“Then the police started beating them.”
Paungtae resident Saw Naing told The Irrawaddy that Daw Nyo and Daw Win were admitted to hospital on Tuesday evening after police struck them and pushed them over. Daw Win was wounded on her head and Daw Nyo on her chest, Saw Naing said.
“Daw Win’s head was severely hit and she lost consciousness [temporarily],” said Zin Mar Win, another farmer activist.
As police clashed with the farmers, Mar Naw, a freelance journalist was also injured, according to locals.
“The judge acted unfairly [by granting bail to two of three defendants] and the police abused the farmers, who were very few compared to their security forces,” said Kaung Htet Kyaw, explaining that only a handful of those involved in protests over the land grab were able to travel to Paungtae to support Pauk Sa.
The next court hearing for the accused farmers is set for May 20.
Last month, the protesters demonstrated by burning fake coffins to represent government troops based in nearby Innma town, the local cooperative association and the parliamentary land dispute commission.
Pauk Sa told The Irrawaddy at the time that President Thein Sein and the Burmese army’s commander-in-chief, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, must act on the issue of land seized by former military governments and the army.
“They should act without any delay, although they have been talking about the return of our lands.” He said in April, warning that farmers needed to access their land soon.
“Now, the time has arrived for plowing, but we don’t yet receive any response.”
Additional reporting by Kaung Myat Min.