Kachin internally displaced person Brang Shawng will answer charges under Section 17/1 of the Unlawful Association Act after the township court in the Kachin State capital Myitkyina on Monday agreed to hear the case.
Brang Shawng was arrested four months ago and accused of being a soldier in the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) rebel group that has been fighting government troops in northern Burma for the past 16 months.
He was reportedly tortured during detention by security forces after his arrest on June 17 at a displacement camp run by Jan Mai Kawng Baptist Church in a government-control area. The 25-year-old farmer will now face trial after the court decided that the prosecution had sufficient evidence to make a case.
Mar Khar, a lawyer representing Brang Shawng, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that, “Brang Shawng is accused of being involved with the KIA from 2004 to June 2011.
“He was charged unfairly and then he was brutally tortured before being transferred to Myitkyina Prison. We will fight the court proceedings as Brang Shawng is innocent.”
Although only five out of 17 prosecution witnesses said Brang Shawng was involved with the KIA, the charges were still deemed valid by the court, added Mar Khar.
Many other civilians in war-torn northern Burma have been arrested and sentenced to prison under Section 17/1 in a similar manner. “Since July this year, 35 out of 42 people who were charged with 17/1 were sentenced to prison for two or three years,” said Mar Khar.
“He has been detained for four months without any proof of wrongdoing. It is totally unfair and not right. The court needs to pay attention to justice and be careful about wrongly sentencing innocent people to prison.”
Brang Shawng has been denied bail and medical treatment but nevertheless remains in good health, said Mar Khar.
Prosecution witness Zaw Lin Htun, who is a township judge, is due to reappear for further testimony on Monday and then the court will begin hearing defense witnesses.
The Unlawful Association Act was passed in 1908 to take action against any group or individual connected with insurgents. Section 17/1 is for persons involved with or supporting illegal groups while Section 17/2 is for those who lead illegal organizations.
Mar Khar said around 60 people in Kachin and Shan states have been charged under 17/1 in the past few months. Both lawyers and legislators have called for these oppressive statutes to be reviewed and amended.
On Tuesday, MPs agreed to discuss reviewing Section 10 of the State Protection Law of 1975, which has frequently been used to put demonstrating students and democracy activists behind bars. Attempts to review other draconian legislation such as Section 5(j) of the Emergency Provisions Act were rejected by Parliament in the previous session.
Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi told reporters outside Parliament in Naypyidaw on Tuesday that there should be a review of all laws—including Section 17/1, Section 5(j) and Section 10—that were used to suppress dissent during the former military regime.