Nine protesters arrested during a prayer service to highlight land confiscations at the Latpadaung mountain range copper mining project were released by Monywa Police on Tuesday.
A total of 12 farmers and their supporter were originally detained at the town’s Sutaungpyae Pagoda, in Sagaing Division, on Monday morning, with only three female activists now remaining in custody.
“They released five of them yesterday night and another four of them later at midnight,” a local activist told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday. “All of them are now back in Sarlingyi. Thwae Thwae Win, Aye Nat and Phyu Phyu Win remained and have been moved to Monywa Prison.”
Those released expressed concern for their remaining colleagues who they claim were mistreated by police during detention.
“When they tried to put us in their cars and when they pulled us out again, they pulled our hair with force and some of us even got slapped in their face. We are worried for Thwae Thwae Win and the others as they might not be treated well,” said a recently released woman from Wat Hmae Village who declined to be named for fear of reprisals.
Meanwhile, around 500 protesters gathered in front of the police station in Sarlingyi Township until 2:30 pm on Tuesday to demand the release of the remaining detainees, including rights activist Wai Lu who was arrested in a separate incident last week.
“We have been gathering in front of the police station in Sarlingyi since this morning to demand the release of rights activists Wai Lu, Thwae Thwae and the two others, and to stop unlawful arrests immediately as well as to stop the mining project and to practice justice and peace,” one of the protesters told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday morning.
Wai Lu, a former political prisoner who has been helping farmers to win back confiscated land, was detained on his way back to Rangoon on Aug. 31. However, his family still has not received any information about his location or condition other than he was to be charged with Penal Code sections 295 and 295(a) for religious offenses.
Local sources claim that the homes of the student leaders who pledged support for the farmers were searched by the authorities in Monywa on Monday night.
“The authorities might try to stop or arrest us or threaten us as we do not have so-called ‘permission’ to protest,” said an activist. “Now, we saw no action from them yet but just taking some pictures. However, we will not stop our protest untill we get our demands as this is our basic right as a citizen.”
More than 7,800 acres of land from 26 villages in the Sarlingyi Township area have been confiscated since the joint-venture copper mining project run between Union of Myanmar Economic Holding Ltd and Wan Bao Company began in 2011.
Farmers began airing their demands for adequate compensation, return of their lands and to end forced relocation during a protest near the Wan Bao Company’s office on July 2. More villagers joined the farmers’ protests in August after it began to focus on nearby Sabae and Kyay Sin mountains which have been decimated by copper mining with farmland polluted by waste products from the worksite.
In late August, local people and civil society groups organized education programs nearby and began a signature campaign to stop the excavation work. Copper mining started in the area in 1980 with joint ventures between former Burmese Ministry of Mining-1 and various investors including Canada-based Ivanhoe Mines.