Police in Myanmar filed charges Friday against seven people who staged a peaceful protest against alleged unfair confiscation of their land, which comes as the outside world watches the government's stated commitment to democratic reforms.
A police officer said those charged included labor rights lawyer Pho Phyu, who was with more than 30 farmers who staged a sit-in Thursday in front of the government housing department in Yangon. The officer, who asked not to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the media, said they were charged with unlawful assembly and refusing to comply with a police order to disperse.
The charges carry a penalty of 6-12 months' imprisonment.
The protest comes amid the government's promise to enact democratic reforms. An elected but military-backed government took power in March after decades of army rule. The new president, Thein Sein, had been a top member of the old military government, but has declared his intention to liberalize the political atmosphere and opened a dialogue with the leader of the country's pro-democracy movement, Aung San Suu Kyi.
The United States and other Western nations imposed political and economic sanctions against the repressive former ruling junta.
But they have indicated they would respond positively to liberalization moves, such as a mass release of political prisoners, and a recent visit by Washington's special envoy to Myanmar has raised expectations that major developments may be in the offing.
Pho Phyu in an interview with Washington-based Radio Free Asia on Wednesday said the farmers decided to make their grievances heard by staging a peaceful protest as their pleas to parliament for help went unanswered. They believe they are not being adequately compensated.
The deputy agriculture minister has testified to parliament that several thousand acres of farmland in three townships in Yangon have been allocated for urban development and mechanized farming, with the government's housing department paying 20,000 kyat ($26) per acre (0.4 hectare) to acquire 7,505 acres (3,037 hectares) from 1,085 farmers.