Three Kachin pastors imprisoned and awaiting trial for organizing prayers for peace in March have been released by the Myanmar military government.
The pastors, from the Kachin Baptist Convention, were set free on October 18 along with over 5,600 political prisoners as part of a general amnesty.
Pastors Koshan Singsar, Z Kaw Htinah and M Hawng Di were arrested and charged on June 28 after organizing an inter-denominational prayer service in Naungmoon township of Putao district on March 3.
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 amnesty to 4,320 people awaiting trial for their participation in protests against the coup on February 1 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 October 26.
Tom Andrews, United Nations special rapporteur (investigator) on the Myanmar human rights situation, emphasized 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 military coup. Churches have been regularly raided and shelled, particularly in Karen, Chin and Kachin states, where high numbers of Christians live.