YANGON — The World Kachin Congress has given its first Kachin human rights awards to three Kachin community leaders serving six-month jail sentences over an anti-war protest.
They were sued for defamation in May by the Myanmar military after leading a sit-in protest against armed fighting in Kachin State.
Clashes had broken out between the military and the Kachin Independence Army in Kachin State the month before, displacing more than 6,000 people in Tanai, Injangyang, Mogaung and Hpakant townships. Thousands of them became trapped between the two sides and about 3,000 Kachin youth staged a sit-in near the state government office from April 30 to May 6 to call for a ceasefire.
The military accused three of the leaders — Zau Jat of the Kachin National Social Development Association, Htoi Gender and Development Foundation Director Nang Pu, and lawyer Lum Zawng — of using defamatory terms against the Tatmadaw during the protest.
In December, a court sentenced them to six months in jail and fines of 500,000 kyats ($328).
“This [award ceremony] reflects the unity of the Kachin across the world and especially shows the support of Kachin people outside the country,” said awards committee member U Steven Naw Awng.
Relatives of the three winners received the awards on their behalf in a ceremony at the Manau Grounds in the Kachin State capital, Myitkyina, on Wednesday morning. They each received a medal and 4 million kyats ($2,621).
U Steven Naw Awng said the award is intended to inspire Kachin youth to take an active part in promoting justice and human rights, and reflects the fact that Kachin across the world are working together for democracy in Myanmar.
“Anyone who strongly supports justice and human rights deserves this prize,” said Sut Seng Htoi, another member of the awards committee.
U Steven Naw Awng said one of the winners, Nang Pu, had been suffering from diabetes and tuberculosis before her arrest and was in poor health in prison.
“They have suffered from cold weather, and after winter there are many mosquitoes. Because they are not allowed to use mosquito nets, we are concerned that they might catch malaria,” he added.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners has labeled the three of them political prisoners.
Some of those who joined April’s sit-in held placards reading “Stop dropping bombs targeting civilians” and “Stop torture and killing of civilians.” At a press conference, the three convicted leaders accused the military of preventing the trapped people from escaping, prompting the lawsuit.
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.