Burma Army Places Two Kachin Pastors in Police Custody

By Lawi Weng 25 January 2017

RANGOON — The Burma Army handed over two Kachin pastors to police in Muse Township on Sunday after detaining the religious leaders for a month without charges, local sources said.

Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) members visited pastors Nawng Latt and Gam Seng on Wednesday morning at the police station in Muse town, where the pair remains in jail.

“They arrived at the police station on Jan. 22. We visited them this morning, and together we held a prayer ceremony for them,” said Zau Ra, a KBC official based in Lashio.

The KBC is the largest church group operating among the largely Christian Kachin community.

“Both of them are in good health,” Zau Ra added. “They told us the military plans to file charges against them.”

The Burma Army first arrested the two pastors in Mong Ko town on Dec. 24. The army accused the two men of working as “financial supporters, informers, recruiters, and rumor-mongers” for the ethnic armed groups of the Northern Alliance, according to a statement from the defense ministry. The Northern Alliance has engaged in frequent clashes with the Burma Army since Nov. 20.

KBC members spoke to the Muse police on Wednesday and requested to know what charges would be filed.

“The police don’t even know yet what type of charges will be brought against the pastors. They are waiting to hear from the army,” Zau Ra said.

KBC members asked repeatedly for the Burma Army to release the two pastors since their detention on Dec. 24. The KBC argued that the two men were innocent, and that they were only working in Mong Ko to aid those who were wounded in the conflict.

On Tuesday, the international NGO Human Rights Watch released a statement demanding that family and lawyers be given access to the detained pastors.

“The military in Northern Shan State should urgently transfer Langjaw Gam Seng, 35, and Dumdaw Nawng Lat, 65, to police custody so that they are no longer at risk of abuse by military personnel,” the Human Rights Watch statement read.

Matthew Smith, CEO of the non-profit rights group Fortify Rights, also contributed to the Human Rights Watch report.

“The arrest of the two Kachin Baptist leaders appears to be retaliation for their help in exposing wartime abuses,” he said. “The military came clean about their detention only after local and international outcry, but they are still at grave risk.”

If the Burma Army does file charges, the KBC plans to provide for the pastors’ legal defense, Zau Ra said.

Previously, the Burma Army said it was investigating the two pastors under Section 376 of Burma’s Constitution, which states that no person may be detained more than 24 hours without charge, except “on precautionary measures taken for the security of the Union or prevalence of law and order, peace and tranquility.”

Friends and relatives became increasingly concerned about the pastors after they received no news about their whereabouts for almost a month. The Burma Army announced that they were holding the two men only on Jan. 19, after human rights groups applied pressure to the army and the government.