Baptists call for Myanmar military to free pastors

Pair were arrested for alleged ties to Kachin Independence Army
Baptists call for Myanmar military to free pastors

Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi (center) attends the 72nd Kachin state day ceremony in Myitkyina, Kachin state, on Jan. 10. (Photo: STR/AFP)

Baptist leaders in Kachin state have held talks with Myanmar military officials over two detained pastors accused of alleged ties to a Kachin rebel group.

Police in Myitkyina, capital of Kachin state, detained Kachin pastors Bimar Dau Lwam and Tu Tham on Feb. 6 after the military filed a lawsuit against the pair for taking part in Kachin Revolution Day celebrations.

They were detained at the local police station before being sent to prison on Feb. 11.

Baptist leaders said the two pastors are being charged under section 17(1) of the draconian Unlawful Associations Act, which carries a three-year sentence for those who interact with an unlawful association

Maji La Wawm, a spokesman for the two pastors, said they met with military officials last week to discuss the detained pastors and to submit letters to senior officials from the military.

He said a joint committee was formed with religious leaders, a lawyers’ network, a peace group and the Kachin National Consultative Assembly for the release of the two pastors.

“The discussion went well and we hope for the release of the pair as soon as possible,” La Wawm told UCA News.

He said there may have been a misunderstanding over accusations that the pair had ties to the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) as the fundraising event which the pastors attended was for the Church and not for the KIA.

On Feb. 5, the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) held a 60th anniversary ceremony for Kachin Revolution Day where a brief performance about the KIA featured performers in military uniforms with no insignia and toting plastic guns.

The two pastors took part in a fundraising event on the evening of Feb. 5 at the church but did not participate in the Revolution Day ceremony held earlier in the day.

Hkalam Samson, chairman of the KBC, said he is optimistic about talks with military officials as the latter will submit the matter to senior officials.

“We are appealing to them to consider the release of the pair toward peace. I hope the case can be dismissed and the pair released from prison,” Samson told UCA News.

The Kachin National Consultative Assembly has also sent a letter to the military’s northern command informing them that the group holds annual celebrations to mark the decision to take up arms against the government to secure self-determination.

“We pray for peace for Myanmar’s military and the government, ethnic armed groups and our Kachin internally displaced people,” the letter says.

The KBC has played a vital role in providing humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons in Kachin and neighboring Shan state since 2011.

Conflict has plagued this mountainous region since the country gained independence from Britain in 1948. Most of Kachin's 1.7 million people are Christians, including 116,000 Catholics.

Myanmar's military is accused of human rights abuses against ethnic minority groups in Kachin, Shan and Rakhine states.

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