CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Myitkyina Township Court on Thursday started hearing from three Kachin civilians charged with defamation against the Myanmar Military (or Tatmadaw).
On May 8, Lieutenant-Colonel Myo Min Oo from the Tatmadaw’s Northern Command filed criminal defamation complaints under Article 500 of the Penal Code against three Kachin civilians, Lum Zawng, 29; Zau Jat, 41; and Nang Pu, 47, for statements they made at an April 30 press conference and at a peaceful protest they participated in on April 30 and May 1.
The three were charged on Monday.
Fighting broke out on April 11 between the government and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), displacing more than 6,000 people in Tanai, Injangyang, Mogaung and Hpakant townships in Kachin State. IDPs who fled from their homes in Tanai Township were trapped by the fighting, as the Tatmadaw would not allow them to travel to downtown Tanai. A group of Kachin youth staged a series of protests urging the government and Tatmadaw to help save the civilians trapped by the fighting.
After more than three months of cross-examining the prosecution witnesses, the judge accepted the charges this week.
Doi Bu, the lawyer for Nang Pu, told The Irrawaddy that the court heard from all three defendants on Thursday, adding that defense witnesses would be heard from on Sept. 10.
Nang Pu is the director of the Htoi Gender and Development Foundation, Zau Jat is the chair of the Kachin National Social Development Association, and Lum Zawng is a lawyer. Lum Zawng and another youth leader were fined 30,000 kyats each for violating Article 19 of the Peaceful Assembly Law in May.
“We have no personal problems with the plaintiff and my client and others defendants did not intend to harm the Tatmadaw in this case. They just relayed the accounts of civilians who faced troubles on the ground,” the lawyer said.
The defendants all said their actions were only aimed at facilitating the rescue of thousands of trapped civilian IDPs. During their protest, more than 3,000 local Kachin marched against the ongoing clashes between the Tatmadaw and the KIA.
The defamation charge carries a maximum of two years’ imprisonment and a fine, but allows bail.
The lawyer said the defendants hoped for the best, “but were also prepared to face any negative outcome.”
The defense plans to call more than 20 witnesses. Daw Doi Bu said her client would not seek help from the higher courts, so that the trial process could be expedited more quickly. After the Tatmadaw filed the lawsuits, lawyers for the other defendants filed appeals with the Kachin State Supreme Court. Daw Doi Bu said that once these were accepted they had delayed the proceedings.