Myanmar Pastors Languishing in Prison Without Trial on False Charges of Ties With Rebels

Two pastors have been unlawfully languishing in a prison in Myanmar for more than three months now without trial, sources said.

(PHOTO: CHRISTIAN AID MISSION)An indigenous missionary preaches the good news of Christ to villagers in Myanmar in this undated photo.

Pastors Dom Dawng Nawng Latt, 65, and La Jaw Gam Hseng, 35, were arrested on Dec. 24 after helping local journalists cover military conflict in northern Shan state, eastern Myanmar, the Morning Star News reported. Last November, Myanmar warplanes bombed the Catholic church in the state for allegedly harboring rebels.

U Brang Di, counsel for the two pastors, said under Myanmar law, suspects can be held for only 28 days without trial.

The two Kachin Baptist Convention church pastors have been charged with illegally recruiting and spying for armed ethnic groups such as the Kachin Independence, an accusation they deny.

The two Christian leaders could face as much as five years' imprisonment if they are convicted of the charges leveled against them.

Brang Di said the trial of the two pastors could not proceed because of the continued absence of prosecutors and the army's effort to transfer the accused to another court. The prosecutor had been claiming that he had been unable to show up in court because of the fighting between rebel and government forces in Shan state, Brang Di said.

On Dec. 24, the two pastors went to the Byuha Gon military base to negotiate for the release of a civilian couple who had complained to army officials about the destruction of their house, sources said.

Military officials released the couple but detained the pastors instead, they said, adding that their arrest and detention were also linked to their alleged action in November last year when they allegedly helped journalists cover the bombing of the St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church.

Last month, CP reported that civilians from ethnic and religious minorities were forced to flee following an escalation of fighting between ethnic rebel groups and government troops in Myanmar's conflict areas.

Tens of thousands of Christians were also reported to have taken refuge in Malaysia as a result of the fighting and religious persecution.

"Myanmar isn't safe for us. They killed people, sent people to jail because of religion," a Christian refugee in a Malaysian refugee camp was quoted as saying.

Myanmar is about 80 percent Buddhist and 9 percent Christian. The government has recognized the special status of Buddhism in Myanmar and promoted it as a means to consolidate support, according to Morning Star News.

Myanmar ranked 28th on Open Doors' 2017 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.