Two Kachin journalists sue company for detention, assault over banana plantation story

By SU MYAT MON | FRONTIER

YANGON — Two Myitkyina News Journal journalists sued six employees of a company on Tuesday after they were allegedly detained in Kachin State’s Waingmaw Township and physically abused, over an article published the previous day about an apparent attempt by the company, whose ownership is unclear, to establish an illegal banana plantation.

At around 10am on Tuesday, employees of Tha Khin Sit Mining Company asked the two reporters, Moon Moon Pan and Ah Je, to leave the Myitkyina News Journal’s office in the Kachin capital Myitkyina and accompany them to their company’s compound in Waingmaw, about seven miles from the city, the journal’s editor-in-chief Seng Mai Maran told Frontier.

She said company employees told the journalists they wanted to discuss the article, published Monday, which cited local residents’ concerns about land that they said was being cleared for a banana plantation, by two companies including Tha Khin Sit. Illegally grown tissue culture bananas, almost all of which are exported overland to China, are fuelling land conflict and environmental degradation in Kachin State, as Frontier reported in January.

At the company’s compound, the journalists were separated, Seng Mai Maran said. She said Ah Je was ordered to complete 100,000 squats and Moon Moon Pan’s face was slapped with a copy of the Myitkyina News Journal.

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Ah Je managed to contact Zaw Khun, the journal’s CEO, who went immediately to Waingmaw Township with other staff from the journal. There, they asked a police officer and two local administrators to accompany them to the company’s compound.

Meanwhile, at 10.56, Seng Mai Maran uploaded a post to the journal’s Facebook page which said the two reporters had been detained by the company. She told Frontier that the company’s employees saw the post, and asked the reporters to remove it.

Salai Khwe Shane, one of the journalists who accompanied Zaw Khun, said that in the compound they talked with the company employees, who denied the allegations in the report, and said the company was not developing a banana plantation.

Moon Moon Pan and Ah Je were released about two hours after they were detained, by which time Ah Je had completed about 300 squats, Seng Mai Maran said. The Facebook post was taken down from the Myitkyina News Journal’s page at 12.16, and Seng Mai Maran uploaded the same post to her personal Facebook page.

When they were released, the reporters went to Waingmaw Township police station to file charges against the company, Seng Mai Maran said.

She said they sued six people from the company under sections 114, 294, 323, 341 and 354 of the Penal Code, which cover assault or criminal force to a woman “with intent to outrage her modesty”, obscene acts, wrongful restraint, voluntarily causing hurt, and abetment.

If convicted, the company employees may face imprisonment and a fine. Frontier was unable to reach the company or the police for comment.

“The boy is struggling to walk after having to do three hundred squats,” Seng Mai Maran said. “The girl was crying to me on the phone because she was beaten up”.

A group of journalists from Kachin State published a statement on Wednesday that condemned Tha Khin Sit for abusing the two reporters and for assaulting Moon Moon Pan. They urged the state government to protect journalists, and the right to information, and called for action to be taken against Tha Khin Sit’s managing director U Dein Saung.

Seng Mai Maran said the nationality of the company’s owners is not known, though they are locally believed to be Chinese.

Correction, February 27: This article previously described Tha Khin Sit Mining Company and their employees as being Chinese. The ownership of the company is unclear, and the employees mentioned in the article are believed to be Myanmar nationals.

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