More Kachin Men Charged for Holding Prayers

By Nyein Nyein 20 June 2017

YANGON — Two Kachin men from Hpakant Township in Kachin State were charged under Article 19 of the Peaceful Assembly Law on Monday for leading a commemoration of the six-year anniversary of renewed Kachin conflict on June 9.

Hpakant Township court set bail for the two defendants­—Lamawng La Tawng and Lating Sau Bawm—at 1 million kyats each, said Lamawng La Tawng. Their next court hearing is scheduled for July 3.

Lamawng La Tawng said four town elders had to show proof of their properties to bail out the two men. He added that they had asked permission from local authorities to hold the ceremony but were told at the court that they had failed to act in accordance with procedure.

“We do not understand why we are being charged, because we did not march or shout any slogans; we were just praying at the Kachin Baptist Church in Hpakant,” he said, adding about 500 people participated in the service.

Three men in Kachin State capital Myitkyina were also charged under the same law and each fined 30,000 kyats, according to one of the defendants, on June 13 for holding prayers to mark the anniversary.

Myitkyina Township court fined the three men after the plaintiff—Myitkyina Police Station No. 1, according to the defendants—accused them of receiving internally displaced people (IDPs) living in IDP camps.

One of the defendants recounted being told that the IDPs had walked to Manau Park, where the prayer was being held, from Myitkyina and Waingmaw townships without permission. It looked like the worshippers were marching, he added.

More than 100,000 people in Kachin State have been displaced since the 17-year ceasefire between the Tatmadaw and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) collapsed in June 2011. Thousands more have fled their homes amid the latest tensions between the two armed forces in Tanai Township in June.

Locals and peace advocates have called for an end to Tatmadaw offensives against the KIA in the forms of protest and public events in the state and around the country since 2012.

So far this year, five people have been charged under Article 19 of the Peaceful Assembly Law in Kachin State for leading protests or prayer services. Another person was charged under the law last October.

Dashi La Seng, a lawmaker representing Hpakant Constituency No. 2, said protesters or event organizers should be aware of the legal procedures and follow the authorities’ instructions in order to avoid such charges in the future.