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Two Kachin Baptist pastors released from prison after 16 months following amnesty

Naypyitaw (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Two ethnic Kachin Baptist clergymen (picture) are among the beneficiaries of the amnesty announced yesterday by Myanmar’s newly elected president Win Myint,

Dumdaw Nawng Lat, 67, and Langjaw Gam Seng, 35, spent more than 15 months in prison for helping journalists document a government airstrike in November 2016 that destroyed a Catholic church in the north of Shan State.

Some 8,490 citizens of Myanmar and 51 foreigners received the presidential pardon, which coincided with the traditional Burmese New Year.

Presidential spokesman Zaw Thay said that the people released were mostly seniors, in ill health and people convicted for drug-related offences.

Thirty-six of those who were pardoned were listed as political prisoners by the independent Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP). Almost 2,000 are soldiers and police jailed for breaking disciplinary rules.

The two clergymen who left Lashio Prison in northern Myanmar yesterday were arrested in January 2017 and held by the Myanmar military for weeks.

In October 2017, Lashio District Court sentenced Dumdaw Nawng Lat, an assistant pastor with the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC), to 51 months in prison, and Langjaw Gam Seng, a KBC youth leader, to 27 months in prison for alleged affiliations with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

The court also convicted Dumdaw Nawng Lat with criminal defamation for providing information about the Myanmar military’s alleged airstrikes during a phone interview with Voice of America on 1st December 2016.

The KIA is predominantly Christian and ethnically Kachin. The latter have suffered persecution at the hands of the Myanmar government. It is also one of many armed groups with whom the government of Aung San Suu Kyi has been trying to negotiate since August 2016 an end to decades of civil war.

However, in recent weeks, armed clashes between rebels and government forces have intensified in Kachin State.

An estimated 90,000 internally displaced persons currently reside in 164 displacement sites across Kachin State with more than 38,000 living in areas under KIA control.

The Government of Myanmar continues to impose severe restrictions on humanitarian groups operating in Kachin State, where about 45 per cent of the population is Catholic.

On April 8, following a six-day mission to Myanmar, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Ursula Mueller called the conflict in Kachin “a forgotten humanitarian crisis”.

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