Burma Campaign UK today condemned the sentencing of three Kachin activists to six months in prison and a 500,000 Kyat fine (£250) each, and called for their immediate release. Nang Pu, Lum Zawng and Zau Jat were jailed for organising peaceful protests in Myitkyina, Kachin State, during the spring of 2018 in support of villagers who were trapped in the jungle after Burmese army attacks.
“Nang Pu, Lum Zawng and Zau Jat do not belong in prison. They organised protests which helped free villagers trapped in the jungle. These villagers were people who had fled attacks by the Burmese army and were trapped with no food or medicine; old people, children, pregnant women. It is outrageous that they should have been jailed for organising candle light vigils and peaceful protests, calling for humanitarian aid for starving people,” said Anna Roberts, Executive Director at Burma Campaign UK.
The Kachin Youth Movement, as the protests were to be known, gathered thousands of mainly Kachin youth who marched in support of the trapped villagers on 30 April 2018 after previous attempts to negotiate the release of the villagers with the government and military had failed. Some youth leaders then organised a sit-in protest for about a week. They had two straight forward demands: that the villagers trapped in the jungle should be rescued, and that they should receive humanitarian aid.
Nang Pu, Lum Zawng and Zau Jat have been sentenced under Article 500 of the Penal Code, for criminal defamation due to statements made during the protests and a press conference about the military’s abuses against civilians. Burma Campaign UK today again called on the Burmese government to repeal all repressive laws in Burma.
“Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD have the majority in Parliament to repeal all repressive laws, and they should do so,” said Anna Roberts. “The only reason these three activists are now in prison is that the NLD don’t care enough about fundamental human rights to protect them,” said Anna Roberts.
Lum Zawng and Sut Seng Htoi, another Kachin youth leader, had already been sentenced in May 2018 to 30,000 Kyat (£15) fine each under Article 19 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law, which is repeatedly used to charge human rights activists, for failing to notify authorities of the protests, even though they repeatedly tried to do so.
Kachin State has seen an escalation in fighting and Burmese army attacks over recent years, with an increase in internally displaced people (IDPs) as a result. In its report in September 2018, the UN Fact Finding Mission stated that the actions of the Burmese army in Kachin State amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.