CHIANG MAI — Lashio Township Court in northern Shan State sentenced two Kachin pastors to two and four years imprisonment under three charges including unlawful association on Friday.
Dumdaw Nawng Latt, 65, received four years and three months under Article 17 of the Unlawful Association Act, section 8 of Import/Export Act and section 500 of the Defamation Act in the Penal Code. Langjaw Gam Seng, 35, was sentenced to two years and three months under the first two charges.
Two members of the Kachin Baptist Convention in Mong Ko were abducted by Myanmar Army troops on Dec. 24, 2016, leaving no knowledge for the family on their whereabouts.
Three weeks later in January, the Tatmadaw released the information that they had detained the two pastors for helping the Northern Alliance and spreading wrong information. They were later handed over to police custody and charges were put against them.
Zau Ra, secretary of the Kachin Baptist Convention in Mong Mawng, told The Irrawaddy on Friday the KBC would make appeals for them at the higher court.
“We want them to be released unconditionally,” Zau Ra said, stressing their innocence.
They were arrested and charged for helping journalists including The Irrawaddy reporters visit the site of a church reportedly destroyed by rockets fired from a Myanmar Army fighter jet, following the Nov. 20 attack by the Northern Alliance forces: Taang Nationalities Liberation Army (TNLA), Arakan Army (AA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and Kachin Independent Army (KIA) in northern Shan State.
Dundaw Naung Latt is the chairman of the Mong Ko’s Kachin Baptist Convention and he received an additional two years for defamation. The military accused him of criticizing the Tatmadaw while being interviewed by media, explained Zau Ra.
Major Kyaw Zin Tun of Bridage 99 acted as plaintiff and filed the complaints at the Muse Township Court in January.
Since March they have had eight court hearings and received the final verdict today.
But on Friday verdict, the trial was tightly controlled, as journalists could not even take pictures of the accused outside of the court, said Lamai Mai Mai, a Kachin youth activist, who went to listen to the verdict.
“Today’s verdict is another reminder that in Myanmar, human rights defenders have a choice: silence or a sentence,” said David Baulk, Myanmar Human Rights Specialist with Fortify Rights.
He said, “These two men are looking at years in jail for doing what the Myanmar government should be doing anyway, standing up for the human rights of innocent people.”
The National League for Democracy (NLD) government and the Tatmadaw have shown efforts to achieve peace in the country, despite clashes continuing in the northern Shan State.
The government’s peace negotiation body, the National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC), which includes military representatives, has not able to create ceasefires with active ethnic armed groups in the region, or end claims of human rights violations.
“It’s astonishing that government representatives can keep a straight face while they talk about their efforts to build peace. The Myanmar military continues to kill, injure and displace civilians in the war in the north, and to get away with it,” said David Baulk.
“The biggest obstacle to ending human rights violations in this country is the unchecked power of the military – and the impunity with which they operate.”