Myitkyina Court Sends Four to Prison for Being KIA Members

By Lawi Weng 15 November 2013

Myanmar, KIA, ethnic conflict
RANGOON — Four ethnic Kachin men were each sentenced to 2 years imprisonment by a Myitkyina court on Friday, which punished them under a draconian law for being members of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

The convicts’ lawyer said, however, that the men were innocent civilians displaced by the Kachin conflict in northern Burma, who had been arbitrarily arrested by police.

Brang Yung, Lapai Gun, Daw Bauk and La Ring were each sentenced to 2-years prison terms on Friday afternoon, said Mar Khar, an ethnic Kachin lawyer who defended the men.

He said police authorities and the court had failed to treat the defendants fairly.

“I found that the judge has a bias in this case. He ignored rule of law because he said that the victims served with the KIA,” Mar Khar said. “But it was not true because these victims were refugees and stayed at a camp at the time.”

He said the men were among a group of six Kachin defendants who were arrested in Myitkyina Township in June 2012, adding that two were released on Friday.

The court sentenced the four men under article 17 of the 1908 Unlawful Associations Act, a controversial, draconian law that sets harsh punishment on contact with or supporting groups with political aims.

Mar Khar said the convictions under the law would damage the much-needed trust between the government and the KIA, which remain in conflict despite several rounds of ceasefire talks.

“This action could destroy peace talks with our Kachin rebels because they [the government] are talking about peace, but they did not respect rule of law,” he said, adding, “These are human right abuses.”

Human rights groups have documented numerous cases of rights abuses through the use of the Unlawful Associations Act, which they say has been used to target ethnic rebels and harass the local population.

The Asian Legal Resource Center (ALRC) said in a report in February that it had examined 36 cases in 2012, in which police and military detained civilians. The center said the colonial-era law was part of a“system organized to deliberately capture, torture and imprison innocent persons.”

The law has been used many times after a long-standing ceasefire between Naypyidaw and the KIA broke down in June 2011.

Two of the convicts, Lapai Gun, 52, and Brang Yung, 25, have claimed that they suffered horrendous abuse while in custody of the Burma Army’s Infantry Battalion No. 37, which is based in Thar Lao Gyi, a village in Myitkyina Township.

They said that they were forced to have sex with each other, perform traditional Kachin dancing while naked, and also to act as if they were being crucified—a crude allusion to their Christian faith.

Their lawyer Mar Khar said the court had rejected the accusations. He added that 14 Kachin were currently being detained as political prisoners under charges in the Unlawful Associations Act.