Two ethnic Kachin men who were accused of having illegal connections to armed rebels and attacking a government office were tortured and sexually abused by the military before undergoing trial in northern Burma, their lawyer said.
The two men, who were staying at a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) after fighting broke out in 2011 between the armed wing of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and the Burmese government army, were arrested in June last year and initially charged with violating the Unlawful Association Act for alleged connections to Kachin rebels.
Six months later, Brang Yong and Lahpai Gum were also blamed for an earlier bombing at a township government office in the city. No casualties were reported from the bombing, which took place in December 2011, but officials said the attack caused damages worth about 4 million kyat (US $4,000) to the building and a nearby van.
“The charges against my clients are baseless,” their attorney Boung Mai told The Irrawaddy on Friday. He said the two men were IDPs, like tens of thousands of others in the state, and had fled from their village, Gan Daung Yan.
Lahpai Gum’s case was heard in court last week, the attorney said.
“He’s just an ordinary farmer, not a member of the KIO,” he said.
The men’s trial for allegedly violating the Unlawful Association Act began in June last year, and another trial for the bombing charges began in December, according to Mah Kha, another lawyer defending them.
Brang Yong and Lahpai Gum were arrested from the Shweset IDP camp near the Kachin State capital of Myitkyina in June last year and were interrogated for 10 days by Military Affairs Security at military camps. During this time they faced severe abuse, according to Boung Mai, the attorney, who says red-hot knives were placed on their bodies.
“The scars from their burns are still on their bodies,” said Boung Mai, adding that minor scars on their legs had faded. He said the two men were sexually abused by male officers during the interrogation. “They were tortured in many brutal ways. It was inhumane.”
Since then, the men have been detained in prison and have only been allowed to meet with their families during trial, the attorney added. During the trial, the township police presented evidence against the men based on records provided by Military Affairs Security.
The accused will appear in court again on Monday, he said.
Last month, a Kachin farmer, Lahtaw Brang Shawng, was released under presidential order after being sentenced to two years in prison under the Unlawful Association Act. The farmer was also arrested in June last year while staying at an IDP camp, and he was sentenced to two years in prison after being accused of having links to the KIO.
He was one of 26 Kachin detainees released as part of the presidential pardon last month, which came after peace talks between the government and Kachin rebels.
A total of seven people, including Brang Yong and Lahpai Gum, are still being detained on charges related to the conflict in Kachin State.