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Awareness campaign held for jailed Kachin refugees

In this file photo, a Burmese soldier stands guard on a bridge over the Irrawaddy River near Myitkyina, Kachin State. (Photo: DVB)

Two innocent Kachin villagers from Wine Maw Township in Kachin State were tortured, sexually abused, humiliated and thrown in jail for no reason by Burmese government soldiers in 2012, said family members and lawyers on Tuesday, speaking at a public event in at Myitkyina Kachin Baptist Church in front of 2,000 Kachin locals, refugees and activists.

Pastor Pawng Khun Naw told DVB that the town hall meeting had been called by Kachin legal rights groups to raise awareness of the case and protect local people from similar incidents happening in the future.

Lahpai Gam, 54, and Brang Yung, 26, from Om Paung village were arrested by troops from a Burmese infantry battalion in June 2012, said the Kachin pastor.

“The men were displaced war refugees who had been sheltering in our church,” said Pawng Khun Naw. “They were not soldiers; they were farmers. While they were taking care of their cows in the Talawgyi area, the soldiers stopped them and arrested them, alleging they were KIA [Kachin Independence Army] rebels.

“Then they were tortured and abused and forced to have sex. They were mocked for being Christians. The soldiers made one of them spread his arms like he was on a cross while the other had to perform a [traditional Kachin] Manaw dance in front of him.

“They were accused of being rebel soldiers and of planning a bomb attack. We tried to offer ourselves as alibis and told the court that the men were at the refugee camp the whole time, but they were jailed anyway.”

A Myitkyina court handed down 21-year and 20 year-sentences respectively to Brang Yung and Lahpai Gam for associating with an illegal organisation and explosives offenses.

The pastor said the case is indicative of how many Kachin people are treated by the Burmese army. He told DVB that many similar incidents have happened but went unreported.

The arbitrary arrest, humiliation and jailing of the Kachin pair was the focus of a campaign by Burma Campaign UK.

In May 2014, the UN General Assembly’s Human Rights Council Working group on Arbitrary Detention petitioned the Burmese government about the case.