RANGOON — A court in Rangoon’s Kyauktada Township sentenced 14 land rights protesters from Michaungkan village to six months in prison on Wednesday, finding them guilty of unlawful assembly and wrongful restraint.
The protesters from Michaungkan village in Rangoon’s Thingangyun Township had camped out in front of City Hall on Dec. 12 to protest a land seizure by the Burmese military, after the government ignored an ultimatum leveled by the group. The protestors had demanded compensation or alternative land on which to live.
Their encampment was dismantled by police less than two weeks later and the 14 defendants were charged on Dec. 23.
Each protester was charged with two counts of violating Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Law, and Articles 141 and 341 of Burma’s Penal Code. The Penal Code charges were filed by the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC), which contended that the encampment blocked part of the sidewalk near the entrance to City Hall.
“The court sentenced one month separately for two counts of Article 18 and four months for Article 141 and 341—in total six months,” the defendants’ lawyer Robert San Aung told The Irrawaddy.
“We will file an appeal for all of them to the West District Court next week,” he said.
The Michaungkan villagers initially set up camp near the disputed property in late 2013, but they left the site within days after authorities promised a speedy settlement.
When the Ministry of Defense announced in early 2014 that they would not return the land and would instead turn it into a housing complex for veterans, the villagers took their occupation to the margins of Maha Bandoola Park on March 24.
In December the protesters moved their protest staging grounds to the sidewalk in front of City Hall.
Maung Maung, a protester who remains camped beside Maha Bandoola Park, said that among the 14 defendants sentenced this week, five are in their 60s and up to a dozen are women.
A leader of the protest, Sein Than, was jailed in August last year and is serving a two-year sentence on six separate charges.
The activist Wai Lu—known primarily for his involvement in protests against the Letpadaung copper mine—was also arrested and charged with Article 505(b) for giving support to the Michuangkan demonstrations in December.
“He is being held in Insein Prison. The next court hearing for him will be on Feb. 24,” said Thi Ha, an activist from Generation Youth.
Maung Maung said only about 20 people are left at the relocated camp beside Maha Bandoola Park, which sits across from City Hall.
“I didn’t think they would be so cruel. We are just asking for our lands back and they have taken severe action against us,” he said.
“Five of them are over 60 years old and we worry for their health during their sentences,” he added.