Two Baptist leaders languishing in a military prison in Myanmar (Burma) need immediate help. After their formal arraignment just a few days ago, these two leaders potentially face long prison sentences for their commitment to highlight a governmental bombing of a Catholic Church.
The arrest of Kachin pastors Langjaw Gam Seng and Dumdaw Nawng Latt originates from a clash late last year in the city of Monekoe (sometimes spelled Mong Ko) in the northern Shan State just a few miles from the Myanmar-China border. Complex armed conflicts have long existed between the Myanmar military and various ethnic groups. Using helicopter gunships, warplanes and heavy artillery, the military drove a coalition known as the Brotherhood of the Northern Alliance (BNA) out of Monekoe, and in the process intentionally targeted and bombed the St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church. The military, which has a documented history of civilian abuse, claimed that the BNA was hiding weapons and ammunition in the church – a claim flatly rejected by Catholic Bishop Philip Za Hawng. On December 3, pastors Seng and Latt helped an independent journalist enter Monekoe to photograph evidence of the church’s destruction, an account of which was published on December 15. Though the military agreed to take responsibility to rebuild St. Francis Xavier, nine days later pastors Seng and Latt were arrested on Christmas Eve.
For seven months, these two Baptist leaders have been chained for the truth. On Friday, July 14, Pastor Seng and Pastor Latt were formally charged with four counts: unlawful association, defamation and two charges of using a motorbike without a license.
Pastor Latt, 67, suffered breathing complications prior to his arrest. Multiple reports confirm that incarceration has further exacerbated his medical problems and he is being denied access to proper treatment.
Pastor Seng, 35, has a ten-year-old boy. These long months of separation have left Seng and his family depressed. With Seng prevented from working, his local Baptist church has helped care for the family’s financial needs.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has consistently highlighted ongoing violations of religious freedom within Myanmar as evidenced in December 2016 reports, “Hidden Plight: Christian Minorities in Burma” and “Suspended in Time: The Ongoing Persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Burma.”While the situation facing Rohingya Muslims is particularly severe, Christians outside of Rakhine State also face numerous obstacles ranging from institutionalized discrimination, restrictions on land ownership, occupation and destruction of churches, and coerced conversion to Buddhism. Nevertheless, on the ground some Christians have reported that at least in their areas there have been significant advancements in both political and religious freedom. This is part of what makes the case of these two Kachin Pastors so alarming: it seems a deviation from positive progress.
Two weeks ago I was in Myanmar, and on my final day visited the U.S. Embassy regarding the situation facing these two believers. I was particularly encouraged by the robust awareness and engagement being pursued at the U.S. Embassy, where officials noted their commitment to continue to focus on this case in particular.
Though grateful for the good work of the U.S. Embassy in this regard, the situation for these two leaders remains quite grim. Their next court date is scheduled for tomorrow, July 26, which is to be the first in a series of hearings evaluating the evidence and witnesses presented by the plaintiffs and defendants.
Facing the possibility of up to eight years in prison, these next few weeks are critical for Pastor Seng and Pastor Latt. Their freedom may well depend upon the actions taken on their behalf.
Elijah Brown Executive Vice President
1. Write a letter of encouragement to pastors Seng and Latt:
Lashio Prison Lashio Township Northern Shan State Republic of the Union of Myanmar
2. Write to authorities in Myanmar using formatting provided by Amnesty International(https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/asa16/6688/2017/en/):
Drop all charges against Pastor Langjaw Gam Seng and Pastor Dumdaw Nawng Latt;
Ensure that, pending their release, Pastor Seng and Pastor Latt are not ill-treated, are held in humane conditions and have access to lawyers, family and adequate medical care.
Union Attorney General U Tun Tun Oo Union Attorney General Office No. 25 Nay Pyi Taw Republic of the Union of Myanmar Fax: + 95 (0) 67 404 106 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Salutation: Dear Attorney General Director
Director General of Lashio Prison Lashio Prison Lashio Township Northern Shan State Republic of the Union of Myanmar Salutation: Dear Director General
State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Office No. 9 Nay Pyi Taw Republic of the Union of Myanmar Fax: + 95 (0) 67 412 344 / +95 (0) 67 412 009
Please send a copy to the U.S. Embassy in Myanmar Ambassador Scott Marciel 110 University Ave Kamayut Township Rangoon Republic of the Union of Myanmar Fax: +95 (0) 650 480
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________(c) 2017 Wilberforce