Five Christians from Myanmar’s northernmost Kachin state have been arrested for holding prayers to mark six years since a return to conflict between the Tatmadaw (the combined forces of Myanmar’s army, navy and air force) and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), reports The Irrawaddy.
The 17-year ceasefire collapsed in June 2011, and since then more than 100,000 people in Kachin state have been displaced.
Two of the men, Lamawng La Tawng and Lating Sau Bawm, were arrested for leading a service attended by 500 people at Kachin Baptist Church in the town of Hpakant.
“We do not understand why we are being charged, because we did not march or shout any slogans; we were just praying,” Tawng said.
All five were charged under Article 19 of the peaceful assembly law, which gives guidelines about public gatherings. The law was reformed in 2014 to remove the need to seek authorisation and leave organisers only needing to inform authorities. However, the reforms created “greater ambiguity” according to the UK-based rights organisation, also called Article 19, which says the reforms “do not fully dismantle the system of prior authorisation imposed by the law,” and that the law “still fails to comply with international human rights”.
Meanwhile, three Christians were allegedly abducted from an internal displacement camp in Kachin and killed by government soldiers in May, reports Kachin Land News. Local sources say the Myanmar army’s tactical commander, Byu Har Hmuu Tun Nay Lin, confessed to camp officials that soldiers had killed the Christians. According to a statement from the office of the army’s commander in chief, the allegations are being investigated.
Also, a new report from Amnesty International, ‘All the civilians suffer – conflict, displacement and abuse in northern Myanmar‘, documents the war crimes and other human rights violations by the Burmese army, including extrajudicial executions, torture, forced labour, and indiscriminate shelling.
According to the report, “many civilians in northern Myanmar, as well as experts who have monitored the situation for years, fear the conflict [between government troops and armed ethnic groups] is intensifying – and that violations of human rights and humanitarian law could worsen”.