Tuesday, November 21, 2017

RLPB 433. Burma (Myanmar): Pastors' Appeal Imminent

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 433 | Wed 22 Nov 2017

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by Elizabeth Kendal 

click on map to enlarge
Burma's human rights issues revolve around the unchecked power of a politically active military which is, at its core, ethnic Burmese and Buddhist supremacist. When the policies of the central government clash with the aspirations of Burma's ethnic peoples, the military enforces government policy with the extreme violence one would expect of soldiers consumed with ethno-religious hatred and confident of impunity. This is precisely why Burma's non-Burmese, non-Buddhist peoples refuse to disarm and for this they are deemed insurgents and enemies of the state.

On 20 November 2016 clashes erupted between the Northern Alliance (a coalition of four ethnic armed groups) and the Burmese military in Mong Ko town, Mu Se District, on the Burma-China border in northern Shan State. Burma Air Force fighter jets targeted churches, schools and homes until the Northern Alliance withdrew on 4 Dec 2016. Then the Burma Army moved in, torching properties and farmlands. Despite Mong Ko being closed off and subjected to a news blackout, ethnic Kachin pastor Dumdaw Nawng Lat (67) of the Mong Ko Kachin Baptist Church, and his nephew, youth pastor Langjaw Gam Seng (35) -- both of the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) -- courageously helped journalists gain access to the town so they could document the destruction. When the reports and photos subsequently hit the press, the Burmese military determined to punish the pastors in a way that would deter any other would-be human rights advocates.

Mong Ko after air strikes
Ethnic Armed Groups Withdraw from Mong Ko to Protect Civilians
The Irrawaddy, 5 Dec 2016.

Burma Army Bomb Roman Catholic Church in Mong Ko
Burma News International, 15 December 2016.

On 24 December 2016 the Burmese military ambushed and abducted Nawng Lat and Gam Seng [RLPB 391 (25 Jan 2017)]. The pastors spent the next three weeks illegally and secretly detained in Kalaya 123 military base in Nampaka township, northern Shan State, being repeatedly interrogated. After an international outcry over the pastors' disappearance, the military confessed on 19 January that it was indeed holding the two men whom they accused of recruiting and spying for the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). The KBC demanded the military hand the pastors over to police, which it did. However, it also handed over their 'confessions' signed under severe duress. The police then charged the pastors with 'unlawful association' with the KIA. Major Kyaw Zin Tun of Brigade 99 acted as plaintiff and filed the complaints at the Muse Township Court. Further to this, Muse police chief and captain Aye Myint charged the pastors with possession of unlicenced motorcycles. The case was initially investigated in Muse township court before being transferred 174km south to Lashio, a four-and-half-hours drive away. In June, Nawng Lat's wife told Morning Star News that conditions were bad and her husband's health was deteriorating [RLPB 412 (27 June)].

Dumdaw Nawng Lat & Langjaw Gam Seng
On Friday 27 October Nawng Lat and Gam Seng appeared in Lashio District Court in northern Shan State to hear the verdict. The pastors were found guilty of all charges and convicted under the oft-exploited Unlawful Associations Act section 17(1) and the Export and Import Law section 8. The court was tightly controlled,with journalists banned from taking photos of the accused outside the court. Pastor Dumdaw Nawng Lat (who is also the chairman of the KBC) was sentenced to four years and three months imprisonment: two years with hard labour for unlawful association, two years for criminal defamation under Penal Code section 500 for having 'defamed' the Burmese military in an interview, and three months under the Export Import Law. Youth Pastor Langjaw Gam Seng was sentenced to two years and three months imprisonment: two years with hard labour for unlawful association and three months under section 8 of the Export Import Law. The only evidence presented against the pastors were their 'confessions' signed under severe duress while in military detention.  Human Rights Watch has called for the verdicts to be quashed and for the two pastors to be released immediately. As David Baulk, Myanmar Human Rights Specialist with Fortify Rights noted: 'Today's verdict is another reminder that in Myanmar, human rights defenders have a choice: silence or a sentence.' Reverend Hkalam Samson, general secretary of the KBC, said the KBC will appeal the verdict.


* intervene for Pastor Dumdaw Nawng Lat and Youth Pastor Langjaw Gam Seng, to protect them from violence, illness, despair and spiritual attack. 'But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.' (Psalm 3:3 ESV)

* intervene in the appeal process, to provide guidance, wisdom and clarity to the defence, as well as courage to the judge, so that justice will prevail.

* amplify the voice of the Kachin Baptist Convention, so it might be heard, heeded and acted on by intercessors, politicians, lawyers and media -- indeed anyone who could influence policy in Burma. [Remember: intercessory prayer is advocacy to the Highest Authority!]

* bless, protect and sustain Burma's Christians, most of whom belong to persecuted ethnic minorities. May the Lord Jesus Christ continue to build his Church in Burma, and may the Holy Spirit enable a breakthrough with the Burmese-Buddhist majority.


On 27 October, ethnic Kachin pastor Dumdaw Nawng Lat (67) and his nephew youth pastor Langjaw Gam Seng (35) -- both members of the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) -- were sentenced to two years' prison with hard labour for 'unlawful association' with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), plus three months for possessing unregistered motorcycles. Nawng Lat received an extra two years for 'defaming' the Burmese military. Accused of recruiting and spying for the KIA, all they had done was help reporters gain access to Mong Ko town so they could document the destruction wrought by the Burmese military. The only evidence presented against the pastors were their 'confessions' signed under severe duress whilst in military detention. The KBC will appeal the verdict. Please pray for these pastors, for Burma and its Christians.


Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com