Ten farmers, who complained to ILO, released

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Ten farmers, who were arrested and sent to Thayet prison after they complained to the International Labour Organization (ILO), regarding their cultivable land being seized, were released today.

The Magwe court had sentenced them to four months in prison each but they were released as they were in judicial custody for the same period. But another accused Ma Aye Win has to serve five more months.

“Though the farmers pleaded not guilty the trial court sentenced them to four months each,” Han Win Aung, younger brother of one farmer Than Soe, said.

The ‘Yone Seik’ sugar mill owned by Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd. seized about 2,000 acres of their farmlands and forced them to grow sugarcane in 2008. The farmers complained to the ILO office, for which they were arrested.

A part of the land was returned to the farmers and they were permitted to cultivate last March. But sugar mill officials implicated them in cases filed under section 447 of the Penal Code (trespassing), section 427 of Penal Code (mischief) when they began cultivation. The Aung Lan township court sentenced them to varying prison terms from nine months to four and-a-half years on 16 October last year. The farmers filed appeal cases in Magwe Divisional court.

Advocate Aung Thein said the case is a stark reminder of the lack of an independent judiciary in Burma.

“The court gave the farmers only four months prison term each after the ILO officer came and negotiated with the authorities. Negotiation and intervention can change judicial power and the course of the justice delivery system. This speaks of a non-independent judiciary in Burma,” he opined to Mizzima.

ILO Executive Director Mr. Kery Tapiola met families of the arrested farmers in Than Soe’s house in Sangalay village, Aung Lan Township last month. Than Soe is one of the arrested farmers.

The ILO official then met Labour Department Director General Col. Chit Shein and other officials in Naypyitaw.

Most of the farmers, who lodged the complaint at the ILO office were released today, but Zaw Htay who assisted the farmers in filing the complaint at the ILO office is still serving a 10 year prison term in Thayet prison after being charged under the Official Secrets Act.

Their lawyer Pho Phyu was charged with the Associations Act and creating obstacles for the government administrative machinery. The Magwe Divisional Court sentenced him to four years in prison and he is now serving time in Thayet prison.

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