YANGON—A mining company in Kachin State has filed a defamation lawsuit against two editors and a reporter from the Myitkyina Journal over their coverage of local residents’ concerns about a controversial Chinese tissue-culture banana plantation in Waimaw Township.
The case follows the Journal’s own lawsuit against the managing director and five other employees of the mining company. The Journal opened cases at the Waimaw Police Station on five counts relating to the alleged detention and assault of two Myitkyina Journal reporters in late February.
The director and employees of Tha Khin Sit Mining, Import and Export Co., a Chinese joint venture, are accused of forcibly taking two reporters, Mun Mun Pan and Ahje, from the news outlet’s office a day after it published a story about local residents’ plans to stage a protest against the company, which is carrying out site clearances for banana plantations in Waimaw Township.
The two reporters said they were detained in separate rooms in the mining company’s compound. They said a company employee slapped Mun Mun Pan’s face with a copy of the Journal, while Ahje was forced to do 300 sit-ups. The two reporters were only released after the Journal contacted Waimaw Township Police Station, which sent police officers to surround the company.
According to the Myitkyina Journal, the company filed a case under Article 500 of the Penal Code against reporter Mun Mun Pan as well as two of the news outlet’s editors, executive directors Brang Mai and Zau Hkun, alleging that the story damaged the reputation of company.
Brang Mai told The Irrawaddy, “We expected this kind of response. We were prepared for it.”
Brang Mai said the company’s name was not mentioned in its story.
Police on Monday summoned the Journal employees to appear in court.
Mun Mun Pan told The Irrawaddy, “It’s a public interest story. I simply reported how people on the ground are suffering because of the banana plantations.”
Controversial China-backed banana plantations have been the target of a backlash from local residents in Kachin State for more than two years. Operators are accused of unfairly taking over land previously leased from the authorities by locals, many of whom have been displaced by conflict.
According to the state Agriculture Ministry, there are more than 60,000 acres of banana plantation in the state. However, civil society organizations put the figure at more than 170,000 acres. A report by the CSOs found that 85 percent of the banana plantations are owned by Chinese or joint-venture companies. Local lawmakers have also pointed out the discrepancy between government data and information on the ground. They are calling for action to be taken against those behind the cultivation of tissue-culture bananas.
Last Wednesday more than 50 farmers from multiple villages in two townships of Myitkyina District told the media how the China-backed plantations were causing suffering in local communities. The famers also said they have been threatened by the Chinese companies for opposing the banana plantations near their villages.
According to a Lisu environmental report, the companies are using insecticides, weed killers and fertilizers and disposing of them carelessly. This has led to the pollution of water supplies in these areas, in turn causing soil damage and killing fish and livestock.
The Irrawaddy attempted to contact Tha Khin Sit managing director Ding Sau, but his phone was switched off.