Two Burmese Baptist pastors missing since Christmas Eve are in police custody and face prison if convicted under a law banning “unlawful association” left over from the era of British colonial rule.
The Irrawaddy, a website founded in 1990 by Burmese exiles living in Thailand, reported Jan. 25 that Dumdaw Nawng Lat, a 65-year-old pastor with the Kachin Baptist Convention, and Langjaw Gam Seng, a 35-year-old KBC youth leader, are in police custody.
Myanmar’s army arrested the two pastors Dec. 24, accusing them of working as “financial supporters, informers, recruiters and rumor-mongers” for ethnic armed groups at war with Burma’s military junta in northern Shan and Kachin states.
Authorities kept their whereabouts secret for weeks. Supporters believe their capture was reprisal for showing journalists a Catholic church reportedly damaged by military airstrikes. Photos of the bombed out church were posted on the Internet.
The 1908 Unlawful Associations Act law defines an unlawful association as one that “encourages or aids persons to commit acts of violence or intimidation, or of which the members habitually commit such acts.” The British used it to suppress nationalists hostile to foreign rule.
Human Rights Watch says Myanmar’s government has used it and other archaic laws still on the books to restrict freedom of association and detain peaceful activists. Local and international human rights groups have called for amending or rescinding the law, fearing non-governmental organizations in the country might unwittingly fall under its scope.
Members of the Kachin Baptist Convention, the largest church group among the largely Christian Kachin community, visited the two pastors in jail and prayed over them.
“Both of them are in good health,” Zau Ra, a Baptist official based in Lashio, told the Irrawaddy. “They told us the military plans to file charges against them.”