RANGOON — A 55-year-old ethnic Kachin man was given 22 years in prison on explosives charges Tuesday, in another case of a court in Kachin State handing down a lengthy jail term to an apparent civilian amid accusations of mistreatment in military custody.
Just last week, three Kachin men who were allegedly tortured by the Burmese troops—and have denied any link to ethnic rebels fighting the government in northern Burma—were given prison sentences of as long as 14 years, also for explosives offenses.
According to lawyer Khun Naung, the Shwequ Township Court sentenced Mali Tang, a village leader in Matgyikon village, to 22 years for planning a bomb attack against the Burmese army.
The lawyer, who is representing Mali Tang and is also the chairman of the Kachin Legal Aid Network, told The Irrawaddy that the 55-year-old was taken from his village by Burmese troops from Light Infantry Battalion 212 in June 2013.
The soldiers forced the village head to guide them, but a bomb went off when they were about 2 miles down the road, Khun Naung said.
“Firstly, they [the army] let him go along with them. But, after the blast, they tied rope on his hands and beat him. They accused him of planning the bomb, despite him insisting that he did not,” the lawyer said. “Then, they took a photo of him with explosives in front of him.”
Khun Naung said his client was tortured during his detention, resulting in hearing problems in one ear and a wound on his right eyebrow.
After he was handed over by the army, police initially charged Mali Tang with Article 17(1) of the controversial Unlawful Associations Law, alleging that he was in contact with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), a charge he denies. He was sentenced last year to two years in jail for that offense.
Mali Tang was granted an amnesty on that charge during one of President Thein Sein’s wide-ranging amnesties, but Bhamo Township police added the explosives charge, keeping him in detention.
Khun Naung complained that during the trial, the Shwequ Township Court did not consider the evidence fairly.
“He was head of the village, and the army should not charge him like this as he served the community,” he said. “He did not get fair justice. The judicial system needs to be reformed.”
On June 5, three Kachin men were sentenced to between 13 and 14 years by the Myitkyina Township Court in a similar case. The three men had also been charged for their alleged association with the KIA and were later convicted on explosives charges, and have alleged that they were subjected to torture and humiliating treatment in the custody of the Burma Army.
Another Kachin man arrested and accused of working with the KIA, Brang Shawng—whose case drew protests from ethnic Kachin people—was released last year in a presidential pardon after he was charged only with the Unlawful Associations Law.