Sentencing Delayed for 173 Farmers in Sagaing Land Grab Case

By Land Rights, Lawi Weng 4 August 2014

RANGOON — Kantbalu Township Court has postponed the sentencing of more than 170 farmers in Sagaing Division who protested over a military land grab, according to a lawyer for the defendants.

Authorities have brought cases against hundreds of farmers in Kantbalu Township who returned to land seized by the military and handed to a sugar company.

A lawyer representing the farmers told The Irrawaddy that 173 of them were due to be sentenced on Sunday, following jail terms of three months to three years that were passed down to 57 other farmers last month for plowing their former land in protest.

But Thein Than Oo, the lawyer, said the judge postponed the sentencing of the 173 people—who have been found guilty of trespassing and causing damage or loss of land—until Aug. 15 because he was “busy.”

“They [court officials] told us to come back on August 15. We may know about sentence at that time,” he said, adding that those charged ranged in age from under 18 to 80.

Under Burma’s military regime, the army had the right to confiscate land, but was obliged to pay compensation. The Kantbalu farmers say they received no compensation for 13,000 acres of land belonging to about 500 families in the township that was confiscated beginning in 1999.

“They need to give compensation according to the law if they confiscated land from the people. This was a law in the past, but they did not give it to the farmers for this land,” said Thein Than Oo.

Much of the land is being used by a company to grow sugar cane. In April this year, farmers began plowing and planting seeds on it in protest, but authorities have responded with a judicial crackdown.

Farmer Than Htike, who is waiting to be sentenced, said that of the 57 Kantbalu residents already sentenced, 15 had been taken to prisons elsewhere, leading to hardships for family and friends visiting them.

“It is our land. There should be no problem if we plant seeds on it. But they sentenced our farmers to prison. We have lost our land, our seeds, and the costs of plowing,” said Than Htike.

According to locals, the Burma Army has been conducting a military exercise on the seized land since July 22, in what farmers say is a scare tactic.