High Court in Myanmar’s Kayah State Rejects Military’s Appeal to Increase Farmers’ Sentences

By Zaw Zaw Htwe 14 August 2020

YANGON—The High Court of Myanmar’s Kayah State on Friday rejected an appeal by the military seeking harsher punishments against 21 ethnic Karennis who were sentenced to imprisonment or fined for trespassing and damaging military-owned farmland.

The group of 21—comprising 18 farmers and three activists from the Karenni State Farmers Union (KSFU)—were released from prison along with 20 other Karenni farmers in early March upon completing their prison terms and paying fines after being sued by the military. The 41 Karenni farmers and activists are from Loikaw and Demoso townships of Kayah State.

However, in the case of the group of 21 farmers and activists, the Myanmar military appealed to the Kayah State High Court in June, asking it to increase their punishments. A district court rejected an earlier appeal by the military in May.

On Friday morning, the military’s appeal seeking harsher punishments against the 21 Karenni farmers and activists from Loikaw Township was rejected by the state’s High Court, which said the original sentences and fines imposed were reasonable, according to KSFU chairman Khu Tu Reh, who attended the court hearing.

“The verdict foiled the military’s bid to create more trouble for the farmers, Khu Tu Reh said.

In May 2019, artillery and infantry battalions started building fences on land in Loikaw and Demoso, despite never having made use of the land, ownership of which was seized from farmers in 1990, according to the KSFU.

Local farmers have worked the land for about 50 years.

Since July 2019, the military has opened more than 50 lawsuits against the 41 ethnic Karenni farmers and activists under articles 447, 427, 353 and 294 of the Penal Code for trespassing, damaging property, performing obscene acts and songs, and deterring public servants from discharging their duties.

At least 12 farmers from the group of 41 faced additional lawsuits under the Public Property Protection Act for destroying the fences built by the military on the farmland. Those 12 farmers had been held in prison for up to six months during their trials.

The jailing and/or fining of the 41 Karenni farmers and activists in March followed Myanmar State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s promise to review disputes involving farmland confiscated by the military, including the military’s lawsuits against Karenni farmers in Kayah State, during her trip to attend the 68th Kayah State Day on Jan. 15.

On Aug. 31, the state High Court is due to rule on the military’s appeal in the cases against 19 farmers (also among the total group of 41 farmers and activists) from Demos Township, according to the KSFU. The military also appealed to the High Court for harsher sentences against them after its appeal was rejected by a district court.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Defense could not be reached for comment on Friday.

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