Farmers Protesting on Seized Land Let Off With Light Fine

By Zarni Mann 8 July 2016

MANDALAY — A court in Mandalay Division’s Madaya township on Friday fined 105 farmers between 500 and 3,000 kyats (US$0.43–$2.56) for plowing in protest on land they claim had been seized from them.

For staging the plowing protest in March 2013, the farmers from seven different villages in the township were charged with trespassing, deterring government officers from their duty and destroying public property.

The farmers and the lawyer representing them, who spoke to The Irrawaddy, interpreted the sentence as deliberately lenient.

“Sentencing the farmers with only a fine shows that the court in Madaya had sympathy for the farmers whose land was confiscated, even though it found them guilty,” said Thein Than Oo, a lawyer representing the farmers.

The farmers charged with trespassing must pay a 3,000-kyat fine, while those charged with deterring government officers from their duty or destroying public property must pay 500 kyats.

The lawyer stated that common penalties for these offenses include jail time between three months and two years, but the judges opted for small fines based on their “humanity.”

“We have to welcome the court’s decision. They had sympathy for us, because we lost our land and have nothing to do for our living,” said Ye Yint Aung, one of the dispossessed farmers from Tangar Taung village in Madaya Township.

Since the year 2000, about 600 acres of land from seven villages in the township was seized by the (now defunct) Ministry of Cooperatives in partnership with the Yaynantha Agricultural Corporation.

Because the lands were abandoned soon after their seizure—and in light of promises made by the reformist administration of President Thein Sein from 2011 to return seized lands that were not being used back to farmers—they staged the plowing protest in 2013.

Vice-president Henry Van Thio, who acts as chairman of the Central Review Committee on Confiscated Farm Lands and Other Lands, will reportedly visit Madaya on Saturday to host a ceremony overseeing the return of seized land to local farmers.

However, the farmers fined for the plowing protest said their lands were not included on the list of those who will be getting their land back on Saturday.

However, they were hopeful that their lands could be returned eventually: “We still need to send the required documents to the chief minister of Mandalay and to Naypyidaw,” said Ye Yint Aung. “We believe our government will not abandon us.”

The Central Review Committee on Confiscated Farmlands and Other Lands, which is situated within the executive branch of government, was formed in May. It is charged with monitoring state and divisional governments’ handling of land disputes, and enabling the return of land to dispossessed farmers from government ministries, state-owned enterprises and private companies.

So far, the committee claims to have overseen the return of 6,000 acres of land in Maubin and Pyapon townships of Irrawaddy Division.

On June 30, 70 dispossessed farmers in Zayarthiri Township of Naypyidaw were given temporary farmland tenure permits for more than 200 acres confiscated between 2006 and 2013. At the ceremony, Naypyidaw Council Chairman Myo Aung said that the Central Review Committee would resolve all land disputes in Burma within six months.