Karenni Farmers in Land Rights Struggle Sentenced to Prison Time

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Nineteen Karenni farmers were sentenced to fines and prison time by a Demoso Township court on Friday after they challenged the Burma Army’s confiscation of their farmland last year.

Those charged only under Article 447 of the Penal Code—criminal trespassing—were told to pay a 10,000 kyat (US$7) fine or serve 15 days in prison. However, among the 19 farmers, six were also charged with violating Article 6(a) and sentenced to six months in prison with hard labor on March 13.

Farmers who were already detained had their time served deducted from their prison sentence. Others opted to pay the fine.

Defense lawyer Saw Khu Talay explained that six cases were brought before the court in total. He noted that one farmer, Per Sakwar Lah, was charged in all six cases.

“These farmers were detained in jail for more than six months, so they were all released from prison,” he said.

The Burma Army’s Artillery Battalion 360 prosecuted the farmers, who come from Dawsoshay village, came to work on their farmland in 2019. The military said it was the rightful owner of the land, which it claimed in 2003 and 2004.

Palyar Myar, who was convicted of criminal trespassing in the case, said that the problem of land rights remains unresolved.

“We worked here for so many years. We don’t have any extra land, so we want to continue to work here,” she explained.

Kalaw Mar, another farmer convicted of violating Article 447 and who paid the 10,000 kyat fine.

“We cannot work another job. So I don’t know what work I should do,” she said.

Thomas, a local farmer, said that his community would send a petition to the respective authorities asking that they be able to continue cultivating the land they consider their farm area, since they have no other land on which they can grow food.

“We depend on these farms. If we cannot work on these farms, how can we feed our children?” he told Kantarawaddy Times.

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