Despite negotiating with the district administrator prior to their protest, 19 farmers from Kan Kaung Village, Meikhtila District, Mandalay Division, who worked their confiscated land in order to win it back are facing legal action under the Trespassing Act.
“We’ve been informed that we are being sued by the land and properties agent who owns these lands,” one of the farmers told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday. “They said we need to bring two persons to get bail when we appear at the court in Meikhtila today.”
Farmers from four townships—Meikhtila, Hajlaing, Wundwin and Tazi—who had a total of around 300 acres of land confiscated between them, worked their old fields for three days last week to raise awareness of their complaints.
“Since the district administrator said he will resolve this and we are in the middle of negotiations with the authorities, this kind of action against us is absolutely unacceptable,” said a farmer from Meikhtila. “We will fight back for justice and for our rights in every possible way.”
Six farmers from Padaung Township, Pegu Division, are also being prosecuted under the act by the Weapons and Military Equipment Factory No. 5 which is run by the Ministry of Defense.
The farmers—four from Daung Tike Village and two from Pae Gyi Village—started working their old land over the last week. It was originally confiscated by Weapons and Military Equipment Factories Nos. 3 and 5 in 1988 and 1989 respectively without any compensation.
Since then the farmers have had to lease back their fields by providing 16 baskets of rice per month to the factories, which later announced that they no longer have permission to plant crops. Protesters deny they are trespassing and threatened to sue the factories for the illegal seizure of their property.
“There was no transparency when they grabbed those lands. Since they were working back on their own land, we will not let the farmers be accused of trespassing,” said Ye Htin Kyaw, of the Civil and Political Rights Campaign Group which is helping the farmers of Padaung.
“If the judicial system of the new government offers no protection for the farmers—oppressing them, threatening them with the courts and prison—and if action like this continues, this will directly affect the stability of the country,” he added.
Ever since the 1963 Land Acquisition Act, which nationalized ownership of all land across the country, confiscation practices have be widespread for various reasons—including project construction, expansion of urban areas, establishment of industrial zones and building army bases.
The current administration under reformist President Thein Sein, which appears to allow citizens greater freedom to express grievances, has repeatedly met with farmers demanding the return of confiscated land.
The movement of working back on old fields started earlier this month. Some farmers from Meikhtila were threatened by the local authorities for their protest while others from Padaung were detained for several hours by the Weapons and Military Equipment Factory No. 3 and allegedly forced to sign a guarantee which said that they will never work the land again.