Two Kachin Christians arrested by Myanmar military set to go to trial

Dumdaw Nawng Lat and Langjaw Gam Seng belong to the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC). They have been charged with "illegal association" and helping “outlaws" by passing photos of a bombed out church to the media. They risk up to five years in prison. Rights groups slam the lack of due process in the case.

Yangon (AsiaNews) – Police in Muse township in Myanmar’s northern Shan state have filed a case against two Kachin Christian leaders, charging them with illegal association under a controversial colonial-era act, a local police official said yesterday.

The military handed over Dumdaw Nawng Lat, a 65-year-old clergyman with the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC), and Langjaw Gam Seng (pictured), a 35-year-old KBC youth leader, to police on Tuesday after taking them into custody on Christmas Eve.

The two were charged under the 1908 Unlawful Association Act for providing information to the media about an air strike that destroyed a Catholic church in Shan State in early December.

According to the indictment, the two provided support to the rebel Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which has been fighting government forces.

The act has been used to detain regional politicians and others, allegedly linked to ethnic armed groups and is still used to suppress dissent.

“As usual, they are being charged under Sections 17/1 and 17/2 because they have liaised with illegal organisations,” said an officer on duty at the Muse police station.

“A major from Light Infantry Regiment 99 opened the case, and we got a 15-day remand for them,” he added. “After that, they will be taken to court.”

Human rights activists and organisations accuse Myanmar civilian and military authorities of failing to guarantee the two men’s right to due process, and called for their release.

At the same time, they have launched an international campaign calling on the Myanmar government to amend or rescind the unfairly applied law.

If found guilty, the two Christian leaders face up to three years in prison on the first charge and another five on the second.

Presidential spokesman Zaw Htay said that the government will ensure that the two Kachins receive legal representation.

The Baptist-denominated KBC, an evangelical organisation headquartered in Myitkyina, Kachin State, has been helping internally displaced people who have fled fighting between the government army and ethnic militias in both Kachin and Shan states.

In the past few weeks, Myanmar forces have intensified their push into the north-eastern states.

Their  air and land offensive has targeted of ethnic militias, causing an untold number of casualties with scores of civilians indiscriminately arrested.

For his part, Card Charles Bo, archbishop of Yangon, has repeatedly appealed to the country for peace.