Protest staged over jade prospector arrests in Hkamti
MORE than 2000 people protested the arrests of seven jade prospectors this week in Hkamti township, Sagaing Region, following a government crackdown on people found in possession of illegal gemstones.
“It is not reasonable to arrest people in this way for having illegal gemstones. If they want to arrest people on these charges, they should arrest everyone in Hkamti and gemstone traders across Myanmar,” said U Aung San Myint, who led the September 26 demonstration.
“According to the current law, everyone should be arrested apart from the gemstone mining companies. Arresting jade scavengers means destroying local livelihoods without creating other job opportunities, so we have to demonstrate,” he added.
This desire to protect the livelihoods of jade prospectors and their families was the reason that another man, U Soe Naing, also attended the demonstration.
“There are many jade scavengers in Hkamti as well as in Hpakant [township, in Kachin State]. Many people Mandalay gems trader depend on them. If they are arrested, their families may struggle to survive,” he said.
U Soe Naing added, “If the authorities want to arrest [jade prospectors] in a bid to stop them doing this type of work, they need to create other job opportunities for them or arrange smallscale mining business for them. If not, they will be arresting jade scavengers every day.”
Under the current Myanmar Gemstones Law, aside from licensed companies, anyone found in possession of raw gemstones may be charged under section 42(a) of the legislation, which carries a maximum sentence of seven years in prison.
Under the law, exploration licences are only granted to large mining companies for 10-year terms and to medium-sized companies for five years. There is currently no provision in the legislation to grant licences for small mining plots.
“The current gemstone law is great for mining companies. According to the law, large and medium exploration licences can be granted through a tender process, but this does not work for people who are unable to conduct large mining enterprises. It does not work for people who make a living by scavenging for raw gemstones,” said U Soe Lwin, a Mandalay gems trader.
“The current law should be amended, otherwise ordinary local people will face difficulties,” he added.
In April, demonstrations were held in nearby Hpakant township, with participants calling for amendments to the gemstones law that would support jade scavengers and small-scale prospectors.
Demonstrators in the more recent Hkamti protests made six demands of authorities, which included the release of the arrested jade prospectors and, as with the earlier Hpakant protests, revisions to the current gemstones law to provide for small-scale mining enterprises. – Translation by Thiri Min Htun and Win Thaw Tar
‘The current law should be amended, otherwise ordinary local people will face difficulties.’
U Soe Lwin
Protesters march for arrested prospectors’ release in Hkamti township, Sagaing Region, on September 26.