RANGOON — Mandalay Division Court on Wednesday said it will hear arguments from a lawyer representing farmers from Sint Gu Township in order to decide whether to accept a case against police officers accused of firing at farmers during a protest over a land dispute.
“The court gave us a case number and said they will hear arguments from the lawyer and will decide whether to accept the case,” said Aye Thidar Aung, a lawyer from the Burma Lawyers Network who is helping the farmers submit the case.
Aung Thein, another lawyer providing counsel to the farmers, said the court had indicated it would set a date for the hearing within the next three weeks. He added that normally the court would schedule a hearing sooner.
“We wonder whether the court is waiting for instructions from someone as it can’t make the decision alone,” he said, alluding to possible involvement of higher authorities in court procedures.
Burma’s judiciary system has a reputation for a lack of independence from the government following decades of military rule.
The lawyers previously tried in vain to file a case with Sint Gu Township Court and Mandalay’s Pyin Oo Lwin District Court.
“If the [Mandalay] Division Court still rejects the case, we will have to submit it to the Supreme Court,” said Aung Thein, adding that if the case was rejected at the highest level “it will show the weakness of the juridical system of the country, which fails to stand for truth and justice.”
Farmers from Nyaung Wun village, in Mandalay Division’s Sint Gu Township, have been trying to file a case against the police for opening fire in August on farmers who were protesting against land confiscation under the previous junta. During the confrontation with police, a villager was shot in the leg while two others sustained minor injuries.
At the time, some 50 policemen entered the village in an attempt to arrest protest leaders, but hundreds of villagers responded by temporarily detaining some of the officers in a local school.
In the wake of the incident, nine villagers were charged over their actions on five counts, including the Penal Code’s Article 333, which sets a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for causing grievous hurt to a public servant who is carrying out his duties. The case is ongoing and the defendants have not been detained.
The violence in Nyaung Wun village started over a land dispute. The local residents claimed that the military had confiscated nearly 7,000 acres of their farmland in the 1980s. The lands were later leased to a company called Great World, which turned the lands into a sugar cane plantation.
Protests against the land seizure have been taking place since June 2014 year when farmers began to protest by ploughing the land that they had previously farmed.