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Mawlamyine district court says 88 Generation libel suit is out of its jurisdiction

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The Mon State court ruled on March 10 that it did not have jurisdiction to decide a defamation suit brought against three members of the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society organization. The case concerned a book the three wrote about land conflicts and uncompensated land seizures.

“Farms and Farmer’s Tears,” was published in October 2015 by the organization’s Department of Agribusiness and Farmer’s Affairs. It documented 354 cases of land conflicts between 2014 and 2015 involving the government, the Tatmadaw and several companies and individuals. Among the latter was U Yan Lin Aung and four of his associates, whom the report accused of evicting residents from their land in Mon State’s Ye Township.

88 Generation organization members in front of the Mawlamyine District Court (Photo: MNA)
88 Generation organization members in front of the Mawlamyine District Court (Photo: MNA)
The court ruled on Friday that although the initial land dispute did take place within its jurisdiction, the matter in question, namely the book’s publication, did not.

U Ko Ko Gyi, the leader of the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society said, “the Mawlamyine District Court has no jurisdiction in this case, so today it told U Yan Lin Aung’s lawyer that she would have to move the case to a court in Yangon, where the report was published and distributed.”

Daw Su That Aye, U Yan Lin Aung’s lawyer, struck a defiant tone after the announcement.

“We will appeal the court’s decision to the state appeals court and if we win there will continue the trial in Mawlamyine. If we don’t win an appeal we will continue on to the Yangon court, where we may pursue criminal charges in lieu of or in addition to the civil suit.”

She added that the court did not dismiss the case on its merits, but on jurisdictional grounds, and was still confident in her client’s case.

Many farmers in Myanmar did not have formal titles to their land until a push to formalize land ownership in 2012. While the move gave many people a stronger legal claim to their land, it also introduced opportunities for fraud.

The report in question detailed how the Ministry of Agriculture’s Department of Settlement and Land Records gave titles for 174 acres of land to U Yan Lin Aung and his associates, rather than the residents. The land contained several plots, including one belonging to Daw Ohn Yee, who shared her story in the report.

“Like many of the cases we have investigated, this one has yet to be resolved,” said U Myo Thant, deputy secretary of the Department of Agribusiness and Farmer’s Affairs and one of the three members being sued. The other two are deputy secretary Daw Nu Nu Aung and the department’s secretary, U Tun Myint Aung.

The 88 Generation Peace and Open Society was founded by former student activists who took to the streets in August of 1988 to demand democratic reforms for the country, then known as Burma. A military coup in September quickly quashed the protests and sent many of its leaders into prison or exile. The party says it published the 2015 land conflict report to raise awareness about the plight of farmers.

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