The owner of a fish farm in the Irrawaddy delta has filed charges against two reporters and a third person for their involvement in a dispute between local farmers in Kyaunggon Township and himself.
U Hmone, the owner of the fish farm in question, on November 19 filed charges at Pantanaw Police Station against Burma VJ Media reporter Myo Kyaw (aka Nyi Htwe) and Kyi Nyein Thaw from New Day Media after they had met farmers, taken photographs and made video of the disputed lake on Monday.
Along with Thet Wai who was documenting the issue on a private venture, the Rangoon-based journalists were charged with trespassing, criminal mischief and conspiracy under Sections 447, 427 and 34 respectively of the Penal Code. The three were later released from police custody on personal bail, according to Kyi Nyein Thaw.
“We went to Kyaunggon on Monday to cover news and take footage of a dispute between farmers and the owner of a fish farm,” she told Mizzima. “On our way back home, we were called into the Pantanaw police station and told that the township administrator wanted to talk with us. They questioned us at 5:30 p.m. Then police officers from Kyaunggon arrived and told us that U Hmone was pressing charges against us.”
She said that, according to the local farmers, U Hmone’s staff at the fish farm had put rows of bamboo screens in the rivers which acted as dams to keep the fish from escaping.
Some 500 farmers depend on the flow of water from this lake for irrigating their paddy fields, she said. A group of farmers then removed these barriers on Monday to allow the rivers to flow into their fields.
Pantanaw police reportedly checked the reporters’ news footage and photographs, but did not confiscate them.
A date for the court hearing has not yet been set.
Kyi Nyein Thaw said that they—the two reporters at least—would countersue the authorities for obstructing the media.
It is learned that a case was also filed against Thet Wai. He said that he was shooting video footage to hand over to Rule of Law Committee Chairperson Aung San Suu Kyi for submission to the Lower House.
“Small-scale fishermen and farmers who have valid land tenures are deprived of the water they need because of this fish farm,” Thet Wai told Mizzima. “So they removed the fishing implements which were blocking the water flow to their paddy fields and surrendered them to the owner.”
He said that 50 farmers from Thekhone village were charged with trespassing at Kyaunggon police station on Tuesday, and that another 50 farmers from Seikphuni village were questioned on Wednesday over the same allegations.
* EDITOR'S NOTE: This article has been amended since the original version was published on November 22 when Mizzima mistakenly wrote that the third person charged in this case was a representative of ILO. This was not, in fact, the case. Mizzima apologizes to Thet Wai and the ILO for this error.