By EMILY FISHBEIN | FRONTIER
MYITKYINA — The Kachin State High Court approved the release of Kachin activist Nang Pu from Myitkyina Prison on health grounds on Friday, almost four months after she was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment for “defaming” the Tatmadaw during an anti-war protest.
On the same day, high court judge U Zaw Win rejected appeals by two other Kachin youth activists, Lum Zawng and Zau Jat, who on December 7 were sentenced alongside Nang Pu to six months in prison and fined K500,000 each under section 500 of the Penal Code.
All three are prominent members of Kachin civil society. They played a leading role in the April 2018 protests in Myitkyina that called for safe passage for civilians trapped by fighting between the Tatmadaw and Kachin Independence Army in Kachin State, and an end to airstrikes by the Tatmadaw on civilians.
Lawyer Doi Bu told Frontier that her client was released early because she suffered from diabetes and lung problems, both of which were exacerbated by conditions in Myitkyina Prison.
While Lum Zawng and Zau Jat are held together in a two-bed cell, there are only two rooms in the prison to accommodate all the female prisoners, Doi Bu said.
As the hot season approaches, there are usually periods of heavy rain in Myitkyina, she said, and Nang Pu’s health was likely to worsen if she was not granted release. She said this was the first time one of her clients had been released on health grounds, and that she considered it a major victory.
Doi Bu said Nang Pu’s release date has been set for April 7, though she may be able to leave the prison one or two days early.
According to Doi Bu, lawyer Mung Seng Tu, who is acting on behalf of Lum Zawng and Zau Jat, appealed to the High Court against the sentences given to his clients on the grounds that they were innocent. He would now lodge an appeal at the Supreme Court in Nay Pyi Taw, she said.
Criminal defamation charges against the three activists were sought by army Lieutenant-Colonel Myo Min Oo from Myitkyina-based Northern Command shortly after the anti-war march in April 2018.
A key demand of the protestors was the protection and safe passage of hundreds of civilians trapped in a live conflict zone in Kachin State’s Tanai Township, in one of the deadliest flare-ups in fighting since a 17-year ceasefire between the KIA and the Tatmadaw broke down in 2011.
An estimated 107,000 people are currently displaced in Kachin and neighbouring Shan State, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
After the activists were sentenced, thousands of people took to the streets in a rare public display of anger. Amnesty International said the sentences reflected a pattern of attacks, intimidation, threats and prosecutions against human rights defenders, journalists and community leaders who speak out in defense of civilian victims of war. “It sends a chilling warning,” the group said in a statement.
In February, Nang Pu, Lum Zawng and Zau Jat were honored with the Kachin Human Rights Defender Award by the World Kachin Congress and the Kachin Consultative Group. The same month, Nang Pu was awarded the Schuman Award by the European Union in Myanmar for her work in defence of democracy, rule of law and human rights.