Three Kachin pastors imprisoned and awaiting trial for organising prayers for peace in March have been released by the Myanmar military government.
The pastors, from the Kachin Baptist Convention, were set free on 18 October along with over 5,600 political prisoners as part of a general amnesty.
Pastor Koshan Singsar, Pastor Z Kaw Htinah and Pastor M Hawng Di were arrested and charged on 28 June 2021 after organising an inter-denominational prayer service in Naungmoon township of Putao district on 3 March.
Under the penal code they would have faced up to three years’ imprisonment on charges of incitement to cause fear, spreading false news and agitating for criminal offences against government employees.
Concerns had been voiced for the pastors’ health, especially Pastor Hawng Di, in his 70s, who has high blood pressure and suffers from stomach problems.
Military chief Min Aung Hlaing granted the amnesty to 4,320 people awaiting trial for their participation in protests against the coup on 1 February to mark the Lightning Festival of Myanmar, in a gesture that also saw 1,316 other prisoners released “out of respect for the humanitarian cause”.
The release of prisoners came just three days after the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) excluded Min Aung Hlaing from attending its summit starting on 26 October.
Tom Andrews, the UN special rapporteur on the Myanmar human rights situation, emphasised that the military government’s action does not represent a change of direction, since arbitrary arrests are continuing. In a statement he commented, “The junta is releasing political prisoners in Myanmar not because of a change of heart, but because of pressure.”
Christians, already suffering persecution for many years, have been targeted during the conflict, which has raged in Myanmar since the February 2021 military coup. Churches have been regularly raided and shelled, particularly in Karen, Chin and Kachin states, where high numbers of Christians live.