Kachin Protest for Refugee's Release

By Saw Yan Naing & Kyaw Kha 6 July 2012

More than 1,500 people staged a peaceful protest in Myitkyina on Friday calling for the release of a detained Kachin refugee, Lahtaw Brang Shawng, who they say has been brutally tortured by security forces for three days and nights.

The protesters are mostly Christian Kachin locals in the state capital, including youths and women, as well as pastors from Jan Mai Kawng Baptist Church and Kachin Baptist Convention. They launched two separate protests on Friday—one at a police station, and the other outside the court in Myitkyina.

Burmese authorities arrested Brang Shawng, accusing him of being a captain in the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), a rebel group which is currently fighting government troops in northern Burma.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Friday, Ze Nyoi, the wife of Brang Shawng, said, “Police punched, kicked and beat him for three days and nights. They forced him to admit that he is a KIA captain.

“He was beaten brutally around his head. His nose was bleeding and his left eye was reddened,” she said. “When I saw him he looked traumatized. He is terrified of the police.”

Ze Nyoi said she took part in the demonstration, holding a placard which read: “Release my husband Brang Shawng!” She maintained that her husband was an innocent farmer and that they had been displaced by fighting.

Protesters included Kachin students in school uniform, some wearing Kachin traditional costume, singing hymns and praying for the release of their colleague, Brang Shawng. Other posters read: “We want peace. We want Freedom.”

Lahpai Ja Naw, a pastor who helped organize the demonstration, told The Irrawaddy that Brang Shawng “was detained and tortured unlawfully.

“We pray to God to help us,” he said. “We pray for peace in our country, and to be treated by the government equally. We pray for the government to make the right decision in accordance with the willingness of its citizens.”

More than 90 percent of the Kachin population are Christians, and the vast majority are Baptists. Since the conflict between the government forces and the KIA erupted on June 19 last year, more than 60,000 Kachin civilians have been displaced—24,000 in government-controlled areas and about 40,000 in KIA-controlled regions, according to UN figures.

Brang Shawng was arrested by Burmese police on June 17 at a refugee camp run by Jan Mai Kawng Baptist Church in a government-controlled area. The authorities later accused him of involvement with the KIA, and of planting bombs and explosives around Myitkyina.

He is reportedly being charged under Article 17/1 the Illegal Organization Act and is due in court in Myitkyina for trial on July 11.

Lahpai Ja Naw said that he will organize further peaceful protests if the authorities don’t release Brang Shawng.