A file image of Dumdaw Nawng Lat, assistant pastor from the Kachin Baptist Convention in Mong Ko town, northern Shan State. The photo was taken sometime before he was taken into custody by the military on Christmas Eve, 2016. He was released from prison with his cousin Langjaw Gam Seng, 35, as part of an presidential amnesty on April 17. (Photo supplied)
Two Kachin Baptist pastors imprisoned on charges that included unlawful association and defamation were released in Myanmar as a part of a presidential amnesty that granted freedom to over 8,000 prisoners.
Dumdaw Nawng Lat, 67, assistant pastor from the Kachin Baptist Convention, and youth leader Langjaw Gam Seng, 35, gained their freedom on April 17 as part of an amnesty granted by Myanmar's President Win Myint to mark the country's New Year.
The two men were among 36 political prisoners freed along with 8,490 citizens and 51 foreigners from Myanmar's jails. Among those released were the elderly, the ill and large numbers of drug offenders. Just over 2,000 members of the country's military and police force, imprisoned for disciplinary offences, were also part of the amnesty.
Dumdaw Nawng Lat was jailed for four years and three months while his cousin Langjaw Gam Seng was sentenced to two years and three months for alleged ties to ethnic Kachin rebels and for possessing unlicensed motorcycles. They were sentenced in Lashio court on Oct. 27, 2017, about 10 months after they had been detained.
Both men were abducted by Myanmar's military on Christmas Eve 2016.
Local activists and rights groups said the military's detention of the two church leaders was linked to their helping local journalists investigate military airstrikes in northern Shan State on Nov. 20, 2016.
Brang Dee, a lawyer who assisted with their case, said the men's supporters were thankful for their release from Lashio prison in northern Shan State.
"Their family members and myself awaited at the prison for their release and we have found that the condition of their health condition is fine," Brang Dee told ucanews.com.
Other Kachin Baptist prisoners such as Lahpai Gam were not so fortunate.
Released from Myitkyina prison as part of the amnesty, Lahpai Gam told ucanews.com that his health is in bad condition due to the torture he received at the hands of military intelligence during an interrogation in 2012.
While in prison he suffered from anal bleeding and serious stomach problems, requiring treatment that included several blood transfusions.
He said conditions inside the prison were awful. Food was inadequate and he had share a cell with over 400 other prisoners.
Lahpai Gam was arbitrarily arrested with six others in June 2012 while he was tending a herd of cattle.
Aung Myo Kyaw, from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, said 10 political prisoners remain in Myanmar's jails and that about 70 are undergoing trial while in prison. About 120 are undergoing trial while under house arrest.
The amnesty came while more than 2,000 civilians remain trapped in rugged terrain jungle after the military and the Kachin Independence Army began fighting each other in the gold-amber region of Tanai, Kachin State, earlier in April.
Since then, armed clashes have occurred in several townships and in close proximity to villages and camps for displaced people. There have been unconfirmed reports of civilian casualties and displacement, according to the U.N. on April 16.