Saturday, November 22, 2008

Army frames charges against ILO complainants

by Myint Maung
21 November 2008

New Delhi (Mizzima)– Burma's Army has framed charges, under the Electronic Act, against farmers from Natmauk Township who lodged a complaint with the International Labour Organization (ILO) against the seizure of their farmland.

The farmers, from five village tracts in Natmauk Township, Magwe Division, lodged their complaint against the local Central Ordnance Depot, objecting to the seizure of their farmlands by the Army. Subsequently, Captain Phyo Wei Lin of the Central Ordnance Depot has prosecuted three farmers, held to be the leaders of the ILO filing, at a township trial court.

"We are in trouble now and we are on the run," U Tint, one of the villagers whose name appears on the ILO complaint and is listed in the prosecution's case against the farmers, told Mizzima.

Forty-nine villagers in all, from five villages, including Ngeyekan, Ywathit and Nyaung Pauk, lodged a complaint with the ILO on August 3rd against the Central Ordnance Depot for seizing about 5,000 acres of farmland situated along the Natmauk-Magwe railroad.

"We don't know about this Electronic Law and also don't know about the Video Law, as we cannot see movies regularly in our rural area," U Tint commented.

The Electronic Law is a common tool used by the junta against political dissidents who allegedly use the Internet to disseminate news held to be critical of or damaging to military authorities.

Captain Phyo Wei Lin accused the defendants of sending news and facts to the foreign media.

In a well known case, blogger Nay Phone Latt was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment on November 10th for violating the same law.

The Natmauk Police arrested Ngayekan villagers Ko Hla Soe, Ko Nay Lin and Ko Sein Sten on October 20th – later prosecuting them under the Electronic Law. Nine days after their arrests, another villager, Ko Zaw Htay, was also detained.

At first, Captain Phyo Wei Lin registered a case against the initial three detainees under section 31(a) of the Official Secrets Act and section 51(a) (making a photograph of an Army establishment), but the prosecution changed the charge against them to a violation of the Electronic Law.

In their complaint, the villagers said that the Central Ordinance Depot seized about 5,000 acres of farmland from them in 2005 for the purpose of growing physic nut – viewed by the state as being essential in addressing the country's energy shortfall.

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