Kachin Farmer Remains Jailed Despite Successful Supreme Court Appeal

By Seamus Martov 24 November 2015

MYITKYINA — Nearly a month after the Supreme Court overturned his convictions, 25-year-old Kachin farmer Brang Yung remains locked away in a Myitkyina prison.

Prison officials have not taken action to rectify the problem, which arose after documents filed in the case misprinted his serial number by one digit, according to Mar Hkar, a prominent rights activist in Myitkyina acting as Brang Yung’s lawyer.

With the clerical error since rectified, Brang Yung’s jailers now say they are waiting for a release order from Naypyidaw. Mar Hkar told The Irrawaddy that will discuss with local authorities the continued detention of his client, who has now been jailed for more than three years.

The Supreme Court’s decision to throw out Brang Yung’s multiple convictions, which earned him a 21-year sentence, was a highly unexpected move by Burma’s highest court, which has been criticized by numerous observers for its subservience to the wishes of the country’s political and military establishment.

Hkawn Nan, Brang Yung’s wife and mother to his three children, said her husband’s initial happiness upon hearing about his legal victory quickly turned to despair when it became apparent he would not be released as expected. She said his health had noticeably deteriorated over the last fortnight.

“I feel very unhappy because he continues to be in prison”, she said, fighting back tears, adding that she wondered whether the error was a deliberate ploy to keep her husband behind bars.

Like countless thousands of others, Brang Yung’s family was forced to flee their village shortly after hostilities resumed between the military and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) in June 2011, following the collapse of a 17-year ceasefire. They eventually took shelter in the Shwe Zet refugee camp on the outskirts of Myitkyina, the Kachin State capital.

One year later, Brang Yung and Laphai Gam, a fellow resident of the Shwe Zet camp, were arrested by troops from the military’s 37th Infantry Battalion while working as hired cattle hands south of Myitkyina.

According to the men’s wives, their lawyer and a report on the case by Burma Campaign UK, the weeks that followed their arrest involved days of brutal interrogations at the hands of Military Affairs Security (MAS) agency. Brang Yung and Laphai Gam, 57, were allegedly subjected to long torture sessions: beaten, kicked, forced to drink water adulterated with fuel, and forced to have sexual intercourse with each other.

Government authorities alleged that both men were high-level operatives in the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) that had been sent to plant explosives across the state, a claim that both men’s families say is completely baseless.

In separate decisions released in 2014, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled that both Brang Yung and Laphai Gam’s convictions were flawed and their continued imprisonment was illegal under international law.

During hearings into the matter, Burmese officials did not refute the suggestion of Brang Yung’s defense team that that the father of four endured torture sessions that included having his “genitals burnt with candle fire.”

“The [Burmese] Government has not rebutted the allegation that Mr. Brang Yung was arrested in order to extract a confession under torture in detention,” the working group concluded.

Both cases were brought before the UN working group by Timothy Straker and Sappho Dias, two London based lawyers working with Burma Campaign UK. The British advocacy group has cited the government’s failure to release both men as proof of the Thein Sein’s government’s lack of commitment to human rights.

Split Decision Leaves Co-Accused Devastated

According to Mar Hkar, the defense case at the Supreme Court focused largely on the means by which confessions were obtained by MAS. In both cases, the defense argued that MAS had no authority to obtain confessions for use in criminal proceedings under Burmese law.

While the court agreed to vacate all of Brang Yung convictions, it chose to uphold the convictions for Lahpai Gam, which were based on a written confession that his lawyer says was fabricated by his interrogators.

Mar Hkar told the Irrawaddy that he strongly disagrees with the Surpeme Court’s decision to uphold Laphai Gam’s convictions while vacating those of Brang Yung, as both men were “totally innocent”.

Lahpai Gam’s wife Lashi Lu, says her husband was devastated to learn that the court had ruled against him. He is suffering numerous health issues, including a possibly malignant growth on his ear that had received little medical attention.

“He’s very sick and depressed,” she said.

Mar Hkar said he hoped that Lahpai Gam’s case would be considered by Burma’s next government, which will have the authority to issue a formal pardon and order his release, when the next president takes office in March.