A Pobbathiri Township court issued sentences against 19 Nay Pyi Taw residents yesterday for holding a ploughing competition in protest of the government’s seizure of their land to use it for state-run newspapers.
Judge Khin Win sentenced Zaw Lat, the protest leader, to seven years in prison with hard labour, while 18 others will serve prison sentences ranging from four to six years plus hard labour.
"The unilateral verdict is based only on police statements. We were not allowed to call witnesses. We were afforded no rights. It is totally unfair for us to receive long-term sentences," said Zaw Lat.
In the 2003-4 fiscal year, the information ministry confiscated more than 500 acres of land to build a printing house for state-run newspapers in Webyan village, Zeyathiri Township. Twenty-two farmers received compensations that were far lower than actual land prices in 2009-10, and 38 others were not compensated at all.
The government's failure to negotiate with the villagers about the seized land led to a protest on September 12, 2013. More than 70 police raided the protest and arrested the villagers, who reportedly defended themselves. The protesters were then charged with several crimes, including disturbances to police duties.
Thae Maung Maung, a lawyer for Zaw Lat, said they would file an appeal at a higher court.