CHIANG MAI, Thailand – Eight of nine farmers, including a 12-year-old boy, arrested by the Myanmar military four months ago in Ho Pong Township in southern Shan State are facing trial over a combined four charges, according to their lawyer.
The eight appeared at the Ho Pong Township court on Wednesday, their latest appearance since their arrests in July and August.
“They are charged under the Communication Law for possessing walkie-talkies, the Export and Import Law for driving an unlicensed vehicle, the Arms Act for possession of hunting rifles, and the State Protection Law for trespassing in a military operation zone,” Sao Mya Wadi, their lawyer, told The Irrawaddy.
She said the charges were filed in September.
“The court has finished hearing from the witnesses in some cases, because each [suspect] is charged with two to three charges mentioned above. But there need to be more hearings for the remaining cases. The accused will have to appear before the court again on Dec. 6,” she said.
The Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF), a rights group based in Thailand, says the farmers were wrongly arrested and called for the charges to be dropped.
In a statement issued Tuesday, the SHRF said the eight adults and one boy were arrested by the Light Infantry Battalion 424 and Infantry Battalions 225 and 249 between July 15 and August 4 on suspicion of links to a Shan armed group, the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army South (RCSS/SSA-S).
The arrests came a day after a clash between the RCSS/SSA-S and Tatmadaw troops in July; the RCSS is a signatory of the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA).
The boy was released on bail on Aug. 5, three weeks after his arrest. The adults are being detained by Ho Pong police. One of the eight adults, Lung Aw Na, remains in police custody but has yet to be charged, according to the SHRF.
“We would like to request that the cases be dropped because they are innocent farmers,” said Sai Hor Hseng, the SHRF spokesman, adding that such arrests should not occur while the country is in the midst of a peace-building process.
“The nine farmers were arrested for possession of items such as walkie-talkies, mobile phones, hunting rifles and bullets, even though these items are used by local villagers for everyday purposes,” the group’s statement says.
Their lawyer said that if her clients were convicted for possessing walkie-talkies and hunting rifles then many more innocent villagers could also be arrested.
“They [the Tatmadaw] could have arrested thousands of them, because almost everyone in the villages possesses hand-held communication devices and villagers can make these homemade hunting rifles and gunpowder,” said Sao Mya Wadi.
“It is important that the judgments are made based on good conscience. There must be justice and equity for all human beings,” said added.
The SHRF says the court proceedings are being delayed by the Tatmadaw’s plaintiffs’ lack of cooperation, frequently failing to show up in court because, it says, they lack the evidence to prove their case.
There are currently no clashes in the area. But Sai Hor Hseng said locals have witnessed the deployment of more Tatmadaw troops. “More and more Burma soldiers have gone into the areas and have taken positions,” he said.