Four protesters have received six-month prison sentences after demonstrating in November against a gold mining company in Mandalay Division, central Burma, according to reports from their family members.
Ye Yint Htun, Saw Naung, Naing Win and Nay Aung Htet, all from the Moehti Moemi gold mining region of Yamethin Township, were arrested while traveling home from Rangoon on Nov. 23 and received their verdicts on Thursday from the township court.
“They received six-month sentences for incitement under 505 [b] of the Burma Penal Code,” said Myint Than, the father of Nay Aung Htet.
Section 505 [b] 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.”
Myint Than said the protesters were also fined 10,000 kyat (US $11) under Section 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Act, which requires people to obtain permission from the government for demonstrations.
Family members told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that the sentencing was unfair because the protesters had not committed any crime against the state, other than demanding their rights.
Small gold-miners began protests in June last year after they were forced to leave their work site by the Myanmar National Prosperity Public Company (MNPPC), which had verbally agreed earlier to let them work in the area.
Myint Than said the four protesters were found guilty despite a lack of strong evidence.
“They shouldn’t be punished because they were just peacefully demonstrating on their way home,” he said.
Sandar Min, a national lawmaker working as a negotiator between the protesters and the gold mining company, said this was the first time since the nominally civilian government came to power two years ago that protesters have been sent to prison for violating Section 505 [b].
She said the lawsuit was not filed by MNPPC, but by the administrator in Yay Tar Shay Township, where the protesters were arrested in November.
“I think the Yay Tar Shay administrator used his power to put them in prison,” said Sandar Min, saying the protesters had not violated 505 [b].
Also on Thursday, the small-scale gold miners from Moehti Moemi held a press conference in Rangoon, saying they had reached an agreement with MNPPC.
Sandar Min said the protests would stop and MNPPC would pay the head of each gold pit 1.5 million kyat in compensation.
She said the small-scale miners would form a company to work on their own, excavating gold in a location next to the MNPPC’s 6,205 acres.
Several leading protesters from other demonstrations, including those who opposed a brutal government crackdown on monks at the Letpadaung copper mine in northwest Burma, are also facing charges under the Peaceful Assembly Act and Section 505 [b] of the Penal Code for protesting without permission.