Four villagers in central Myanmar’s Mandalay region were sentenced to 14 months in prison with hard labor Tuesday for their roles in a July 2018 protest against a Chinese cement factory, the local court and the villagers said.
The four residents of Aungthabyae village in Mandalay’s Patheingyi township were charged and convicted of Roads and Bridges Law offenses for blocking a road to prevent access by vehicles from the Myanmar company that was building the coal-powered cement factory with a Chinese partner.
“They didn’t let us testify in court. We were sentenced unfairly to 14 months in prison,” a 60-year-old woman named Mya told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“We are local farmers, and the officials from Settlement and Land Records Department have testified that the lands belong to the farmers. And yet, we were sentenced unfairly,” she said.
Mya’s daughter, Hnin Hnin Wai, also slammed the verdict as “totally unfair” and a “one-sided decision.”
“They seized our lands and they also destroyed all the crops on the farm,” she told RFA.
Three of the four villagers sentenced on Tuesday had been detained in Mandalay’s Oh-Boe prison, while one of them, a 70-year-old woman named Aye, was out on bail and did not attend the court hearing. The Patheingyi township court has classified her as a fugitive, it said.
Aye’s son, Tun Myint Win, died on June 5 in Oh-Boe prison, about three weeks after he and three others were arrested following a protest at the cement plant.
Cuts and other injuries seen on Tun Myint Win’s body by family members at Mandalay Hospital, where he had been taken for a post-mortem examination, indicate he may have been killed by authorities during questioning, relatives and friends told RFA at the time.
Around 20 people were injured at the May 15 protest, when police fired rubber bullets and tear gas into a crowd protesting construction work at the Alpha Cement Plant, operated as part of a joint venture between a local firm and a Chinese partner.
During the protest, villagers blocked factory vehicles and demanded compensation for land they say they lost when an 18-foot-wide road was built as part of the project.
They also urged authorities to address what they said were problems caused by an influx of hundreds of Chinese employees working at the site.
Some demonstrators set four vehicles and part of the factory property on fire, according to a village resident.
Construction began at the site in December 2017 and Myanmar Conch Cement, Myanmar Conch Cement Co. Ltd.—a joint venture between Myanmar’s Myint Investment Group and China’s Anhui Conch Cement—renamed it the Alpha Cement Plant.
Reported by Khay Mani Win. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Paul Eckert.