Myanmar Activist Jailed 10 years For Anti-Mine Protest

Security forces move in to stop protesters plowing fields near the copper mine at Letpadaung Mountain in northern Burma's Sagaing division on April 25, 2013.

A court in central Myanmar has sentenced an activist to a decade in prison for “threatening national security” after he led a protest against a controversial China-backed copper mine which led to clashes with authorities, according to a fellow campaigner.

Judge Kaythi Hlaing of the Shwebo city court handed Aung Soe, an activist with Myanmar’s People’s Support Network, the 10-year sentence on Monday after convicting him on eight charges linked to the violence on April 25, Moe Moe, also of the activist’s group, told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

The group had backed hundreds of farmers protesting the alleged seizure of their land by Wan Bao Company, which runs the copper mine near Mount Letpadaung in northern Burma’s Sagaing division.

The clashes broke out after security forces moved in to stop the farmers from plowing their fields on the contested land. At least ten protesting farmers were injured, some of them reportedly with gunshot wounds, while 15 policemen were also wounded.

Aung Soe “was sentenced under eight charges, including for threatening religious purity and national security, and for illegal assembly,” Moe Moe said Tuesday.

“He was sentenced at the Shwebo court by the judge, Daw Kaythi Hlaing,” he said, using an honorific title.

Two residents of Setae village, near the Letpadaung copper mine, named Soe Thu and Maung San, were also sentenced for “violating orders” and “inciting riots,” Moe Moe added.

He did not say how long the two villagers were sentenced to prison.

Moe Moe said that Aung Soe’s lawyer will appeal his conviction.

Suspended operations

An inquiry commission in Myanmar ruled in March that the copper mine should be allowed to continue despite widespread objections.

But nearly four months later, operations at the facility remain suspended with protesting villagers refusing to accept compensation offers.

Operations at the mine have been suspended since November, when a brutal crackdown on protests against the mine prompted the government to set up the commission to look into the project’s viability.

The commission recommended that the project should be allowed to move ahead despite conceding that it brought only “slight" benefits to the nation.

Since then, villagers who are mostly farmers have staged regular protest against the mine, complaining that the compensation was not enough and calling for a complete halt to the project.

Some 15 protesters—both local residents and activists from Yangon—are wanted by the authorities over demonstrations against the mine in recent months.

Villagers have said that they do not want pollution from the mine to destroy the area and that authorities have confiscated some 8,000 acres (3,000 hectares) of farmland from 26 villages to make way for the mine.

Reported by Yadanar Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.
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