Two Kachin clergymen’s conviction is punishment for telling the truth, Catholic activist says

Dumdaw Nawng Lat gets four years and three months, whilst Langjaw Gam Seng gets two years and three months for defaming Myanmar’s military and for ties with “outlawed” groups. For a peace activist, the two "were convicted without evidence for a crime they did not commit". Words of ‘love, peace and justice” can come from Pope Francis’s visit.

Yangon (AsiaNews) – The trial of two Kachin Christian clergymen ended today with a sentence of up to four years and three months in prison for "defaming" the Myanmar army and for ties with "outlawed organisations".

The two men were arrested last Christmas in Muse, northern Shan State for helping journalists investigate the bombing of a Catholic church and held by the military without informing their families.

Rev Dumdaw Nawng Lat, 65, head of the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC), received the tougher sentence, four years and three months in prison.

He was convicted for defaming (Art 500 of the Criminal Code) the country’s Armed Forces, and for ties (17/1) with the "outlawed" rebel Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

Langjaw Gam Seng, 35, a member of the KBC youth wing, was given two years, three months for violating 17/1, which punishes anyone for involvement with armed or outlawed groups (like the KIA).

Investigators went after them on the basis of 1908 law against illegal associations. The two allegedly gave aid to the KIA, which has been fighting the Myanmar army for a long time.

In the past, the law has been used to arrest regional leaders and politicians and continues to be used today to suppress dissent.

The group to which Dumdaw Nawng Lat and Langjaw Gam Seng belong, the KBC, is an evangelical organisation based in Myitkyina, capital of Kachin State, in northern Myanmar.

Most of its work involves helping people displaced by the fighting between the Myanmar army and Kachin rebels, which has recently spilled over into Shan State.

Speaking to AsiaNews Khon Ja Labang, a Catholic activist and member of the Kachin Peace Network, noted that the two Christian clergymen "were convicted without evidence for a crime they did not commit".

In fact, the two were punished by the authorities "for saying what the real situation was on the ground" and for "answering media questions, and accompanying two journalists” where fighting was taking place.

Over the past year, the military’s push into the northeastern territories has intensified. Ground troops and planes have struck positions held by local ethnic armed groups, with countless deaths. The military have also arrested civilians indiscriminately.

Against this backdrop, the Archbishop of Yangon, Card Charles Bo, has made repeated appeals to the country to seek peace.

According to Khon, Myanmar’s so-called civilian government and the military are marching to the same tune. Under the guise of “national reconciliation," the military continue to control the country.

There is hope that Pope Francis’s apostolic visit to Myanmar in late November will provided an opportunity to "preach love, peace and justice" and "not be embroiled in politics".

"I do not expect big changes,” noted Khon, “but I would like him to clearly point out what Christ asks us to do." (DS)