A court in Rangoon’s Hlaing Tharyar Township briefly detained seven people on Thursday in a case involving the eviction of 149 families from land that they have occupied since 1996.
The seven people were taken into custody for failing to post bonds after being ordered to appear at the court three days after they were issued eviction notices by the government’s Department of Human Settlement and Housing Development.
They were freed an hour and a half later, after family members and activists protested outside the courthouse to demand their release.
The seven were from an initial group of 28 families who had been told to attend a June 28 hearing at which they would face charges of illegally occupying the land they have lived on for the past 16 years. Of the 28, representatives of only 22 families went to the court, and only the seven who were arrested stayed for the hearing.
The other families living on the land are due to face similar hearings at a later date.
The case involves a total of 149 families who were told on Monday that they had to immediately vacate their homes—mostly makeshift bamboo huts—or face arrest. When they failed to do so, they were told to appear at the court to post a 7,000 kyat (US $8) bond to avoid imprisonment.
Su Su Nway, a prominent rights activist who is involved in the case, told The Irrawaddy that relatives of the seven people who were arrested were denied permission to see them inside the courthouse, so they began protesting outside. After about an hour, the seven were allowed to leave, she said.
One woman who was among the evictees told The Irrawaddy that her family could not afford to pay the 7,000 kyat demanded by the authorities because she couldn’t even pay to send her children to school.
“Our house is very small and our family is very poor,” she said.
“They should not threaten people like this,” said Win Shwe, another rights activist who is helping the newly homeless families. “They are very afraid that they will end up in prison.”
The activists said that they will send a letter to the government and find lawyers for the families who have been ordered to leave.
“I really want to ask the Department of Human Settlement and Housing Development to let them stay for now, because it is the rainy season and difficult for them to move anywhere else,” said Su Su Nway.
Beyond temporary measures, however, the activists said that the government should do more to help the millions of Burmese people who are effectively landless.
“There are many people in our country who have no land to settle. If the government helped them, this problem would not exist. It is the duty of the government to settle people who have no land of their own,” said Su Su Nway.