RANGOON — Two Kachin men arrested last year and allegedly tortured for spying for the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) are now facing charges of plotting to blow up a bridge.
The men, who last year told a court in the Kachin State capital Myitkyina that they had been forced to engage in sexual acts with each other while in custody, told their lawyer about the new charges last week after the prosecution presented photos in court of them allegedly setting explosives.
The lawyer, Mar Khar, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the two men now stand accused of attempting to blow up the Balamingyi Bridge, the main railway bridge between Myitkyina and Wai Maw townships.
“Myo Win Naing, the deputy township officer, made the allegation against my clients on March 14 at the court in Myitkyina. They told me that the photos show them after they were blindfolded and handcuffed by the police and taken by car to the bridge, where they were forced to pretend to lay explosives,” said the lawyer.
The two suspects, La Htai Gam, 52, and Drang Gyung, 25, were detained last June by government troops from Infantry Battalion No. 37, which is based in Thar Lao Gyi, a village in Myitkyina Township.
They said that while they were in custody, the were forced to have sex with each other, perform traditional Kachin dancing while naked, and also to act as if they were being crucified—a crude allusion to their Christian faith.
They were initially accused by the Burmese government of coming to Myitkyina to spy on the Burmese military—a charge for which they could face a sentence of between two and three years in prison. The new charges against them come with a possible prison sentence of up to 10 years.
“The current government says that it is trying to bring peace, but what they are doing is destroying peace,” said the lawyer, referring to the alleged abuse of prisoners suspected of having ties to the KIA.
According to Tomas Ojea Quintana, the UN’s human rights rapporteur for Burma, who visited Kachin State last month, human rights abuses continue in the state despite recent renewed efforts to end the conflict.
The families of the two men are among the 100,000 people who have been displaced from their homes in Kachin State since fighting broke out between government forces and the KIA in June 2011.
There are currently estimated to be at least 60 ethnic Kachin detainees being held in Myitkyina jail cells accused of being members of the KIA. Another 40 are being detained in northern Shan State, according to Mar Khar.
“The police here continue to regard refugees as a threat. Whenever there is an explosion, the local authorities here always say that it is because there are refugees in the city,” said the lawyer.