Two Kachin Baptist pastors detained since Christmas Eve 2016 have been given their freedom in a mass prisoner amnesty granted by Myanmar’s new President Win Myint.
Langjaw Gam Seng and his cousin Dumdaw Nawng Lat were arrested after helping a journalist from the Voice of America to photograph a Catholic church bombed by state forces. They were charged with aiding rebel fighters.
The two men were among 8,490 Myanmar citizens and 51 foreigners released 17 April, according to Catholic news agency Fides. The two men were in Lashio Prison, northern Myanmar. Pastor Dumdaw Nawng Lat was jailed for four years and three months and youth leader Langjaw Gam Seng for two years and three months, both convicted of providing support for an ethnic armed group and defaming the military.
Brang Dee, a lawyer who assisted with their case, told UCAN: “Their family members and myself waited at the prison for their release. We found that the condition of their health is fine.” During their detention Amnesty International reported that Lat, 67 at the time of his arrest, had been denied medical treatment for breathing difficulties.
The men went missing during a period of intense fighting between ethnic militias and government forces in December 2016. According to Burma News International the bombing of St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Mong Ko town by the Burmese army was intentional because they had left a cache of weapons inside the church that they did not want to fall into enemy hands after they had been forced to retreat.