Karenni State Court Throws Out Military Case Against Farmers
By NETWORK MEDIA GROUP (NMG)
Tuesday, August 18, 2020
The Karenni State court has dismissed an appeal brought by the Burma Army against 21 farmers after the military argued that a township-level sentence was too lenient.
The state-level court threw out the case on August 14, which was originally tried in Loikaw Township. The farmers were initially charged with violating multiple laws, including Article 6(1) of Public Property Protection Act and Article 447 of the Trespassing Law, when they attempted to cultivate crops on farmland seized by the military.
The farmers were sentenced in March to fines and a short prison term, which a judge attributed to time already served while they awaited trial in detention for three months.
Dissatisfied, the military appealed the sentence at the Loikaw District court and then the Karenni State court.
“A judge from the state court decided that the township court had already given the correct sentence for this case. The judge decided that a higher court didn’t need to investigate the case, so the state court judge dismissed all cases concerning this today,” the farmers’ defense lawyer Saw Khu Talay told NMG.
Khu Tu Reh, chair of the Karenni State Farmers Union—three members of which were facing charges—said that the judge “made the right decision” for “standing with the farmers.”
While it is assumed that the case will not move ahead since its dismissal at the state level, he said that the military may try to appeal upward.
“If the Burma Army wants to make the farmers suffer, they can appeal this case in Naypyidaw,” Khu Tu Reh explained, referring to the Union-level court. “We have to wait and see,” he added.
The farmers also have yet to get their land back.
“Even though the state court dismissed the case, it doesn’t mean that the farmland will be returned to the farmers. Therefore, the land dispute remains unresolved,” the farmers union leader said. “We have called for the return of farmland to the farmers. They always ignore our demands. We will continue to call for it until we get our farmland. According to Karenni history, this land is owned by our farmers. Even though we do not have official ownership documents, according to our customs, we own this land. We will continue to demand it [be returned].”
Land activists estimate that nearly 50,000 acres of land was seized in Karenni State during the last two government administrations. Most was confiscated by the Burma Army, but governmental departments and businesspeople have also been involved, according to the Karenni State Farmers Union.
Loikaw, Hpruso and Demoso townships have seen the most land seized.