Burma Army Advances Case Against Karenni Farmers to State Court

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

The Burma Army’s appeal of the conviction of Karenni farmers in local courts has created further burdens on villagers, members of the Karenni State Farmers Union (KSFU) said.

After attempting to cultivate farmland seized by the Burma Army, three KSFU staff and 37 farmers from Loikaw and Demoso townships were charged in 2019 by eight military officers with violating at least five laws, including Article 6(1) of Public Property Protection Act and Article 447 of the Trespassing Law. They were sentenced in March to fines and a short term in prison, which a judge attributed to time already served while they awaited trial.

The Loikaw-based Artillery Battalion 356 and Light Infantry Battalion 250 have since appealed the conviction of the farmers in Loikaw Township, and the Demoso-based Artillery Battalion done the same against famers from Dawsoshay village in Demoso Township. The appeal has been directed to the Karenni State court on the grounds that the military feels the sentence handed to the farmers in local courts was too lenient.

A total of 20 farmers from the Loikaw Township villages of Dawmokala, Thon Mai and Loi Kamu and six farmers from Dawsoshay in Demoso Township received notice letters on July 2 and 7 to appear in state court. Farmers from Dawsoshay attended a court hearing in the Karenni State court on July 10. Farmers from the villages in Loikaw Township will attend their hearing in state court on July 24.

Members of the KSFU said that the farmers are facing difficulties making a living after losing the land to the military, and with the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“How can farmers ask for help in this situation? I think farmers have no protection at the moment,” KSFU member Sitt Mone told NMG.

Another member of the farmers union, who spoke to NMG on the condition of anonymity, said that the farmers were “already struggling a lot” before the news of their renewed prosecution at the state court.

“Some farmers don’t have any farmland left to cultivate after their land plots were confiscated,” the member said. “The army is prosecuting them… they need transportation costs [to go to court] and money for the daily needs of their families. They will have more difficulties now.”

He added that the farmers are going into debt borrowing money so that they can go to court.

Per Reh, a farmer who lives in Dawsoshay village and is among those facing charges, said that many farmers have tried to seek work as daily wage laborers, but one common job, weeding the farms of others, has been replaced by the use of pesticides, he said, limiting their options.

“We are really struggling for our survival,” Per Reh told NMG. “I cannot do anything. We don’t have any choice. I don’t know anything about the legal process. What I understand is going to plant crops on our rotating farmland. I only understand how to grow seasonal vegetables, and that’s why we are continuing to face these court hearings,” Per Reh said.

The KSFU has demanded that the Burma Army withdraw its appeal against the farmers.

“The township court already made a decision. The township court already sentenced these farmers. It should be done at this level,” the anonymous KSFU member said. “The army has appealed the conviction. I don’t think they should have done this. It should have been stopped here. The farmers are really struggling. The army should reconsider what they are doing.”