Kachin man convicted for implicating military in death of his daughter
(Yangon, February 18, 2015)— The Myanmar authorities should overturn the conviction of Shayam Brang Shawng on charges relating to a letter he sent to the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC), two human rights organizations said today. The Ja Seng Ing Truth Finding Committee and Fortify Rights said the conviction was unjust and retaliatory and called on the Myanmar authorities to ensure that those responsible for the death of Brang Shawng’s daughter are held accountable.
On February 13, Hpakant Township Court convicted Brang Shawng, a 50-year old ethnic-Kachin man, for making “false charges” in a letter he sent to the MNHRC. In October 2012, Brang Shawng sent a letter to the MNHRC alleging that Myanmar Army soldiers shot and killed his daughter Ja Seng Ing in Sut Ngai Yang village, Hpakant Township, Kachin State on September 13, 2012. The presiding judge gave Brang Shawng the option to pay a 50,000-kyat fine ($50 USD) or serve a six-month prison term. Brang Shawng elected to pay the fine. Brang Shawng maintains his innocence and intends to appeal his conviction.
“I will continue to seek the truth about my daughter’s death,” said Brang Shawng. “Myanmar’s laws are not being used to protect the ordinary citizens, they are only being used to protect those with power.”
Brang Shawng was convicted under Article 211 of the Myanmar Penal Code, which describes the crime of making “false charges.” Myanmar Army Major Zar Ni Min Paik initiated the legal case against Brang Shawng in Hpakant Township Court in March 2013, citing an internal Myanmar Army investigation that claims Ja Seng Ing died as a result of injuries from a mine set by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). Court documents specifically cite Brang Shawng’s letter to the MNHRC as the basis of the case.
The Myanmar Army and the KIA have been engaged in active armed conflict since June 2011, when a 17-year ceasefire ended.
The Truth Finding Committee—a group of ten Kachin community-based organizations—and Fortify Rights conducted independent investigations into the death of Ja Seng Ing. Both organizations believe that Ja Seng Ing died as a result of injuries sustained when Myanmar Army soldiers shot her.
On December 6, 2014, the Truth Finding Committee published a 41-page report entitled, Who Killed Ja Seng Ing?, which includes eyewitness testimonies indicating that Myanmar Army soldiers are responsible for the killing of Ja Seng Ing. The Committee called on the Government of Myanmar to establish an independent commission to investigate the death of Ja Seng Ing and the injury of other civilians in Hpakant Township on 13 September 2012.
On December 8, 2014, Fortify Rights and five leading international human rights organizations sent a letter to President Thein Sein calling for the charges against Brang Shawng to be immediately and unconditionally dropped. President Thein Sein’s office did not respond to the letter.
“Our findings clearly show that Brang Shawng is an innocent man being punished because he was brave enough to stand up to the military,” said Mung Dan, a member of the Committee. “Justice demands that Brang Shawng’s conviction be overturned and that those who killed his daughter be punished according to the law.”
During the trial, Brang Shawng appeared in court more than 45 times. The case was repeatedly adjourned when Major Zar Ni Min Paik and prosecution witnesses failed to appear in court. The presiding judge was replaced at a crucial moment in the case and the court refused to compel the testimony of a key witness who could have provided evidence supporting Brang Shawng’s defense. The Truth Finding Committee and Fortify Rights believe these facts raise concerns about the military’s influence over the case.
Brang Shawng’s lawyer, Ywet Nu Aung, reported that armed Myanmar Army soldiers have attempted to intimidate her outside of the Hpakant Township courthouse. Moreover, the MNHRC denied Ywet Nu Aung assistance in the case—MNHRC staff escorted her from their offices in Yangon in August 2013 when she attempted to raise concerns about the case.
In recent years, the Myanmar military has frequently used its political influence to silence critics, and the Myanmar police, judiciary, government, and MNHRC have regularly succumbed to military pressure regarding cases against those alleging military abuses.
On January 28, the Myanmar military threatened legal action against anyone alleging that Myanmar Army soldiers are responsible for the recent killings of two ethnic-Kachin women in northern Shan State. The following day, a spokesperson for the office of President Thein Sein supported the military’s statement, adding that media outlets could face charges for implicating the military in the case.
Customary international law and numerous international treaties protect the rights to freedom of expression and an effective remedy for human rights violations. International law also protects individuals who challenge human rights violations. The UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders states that everyone has the right to “complain about the policies and actions of individual officials and government authorities with regard to violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms” and that states shall take action to “ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone…against any violence, threats, retaliation…pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of [these] rights.”
The Truth Finding Committee and Fortify Rights call on Myanmar authorities to take prompt and decisive action to ensure that those responsible for Ja Seng Ing’s death are held accountable. Fortify Rights is also calling for an independent international investigation, including Myanmar partners, into alleged violations of international human rights, criminal, and humanitarian law committed by all parties to Myanmar’s various armed conflicts, including in Kachin and northern Shan states.
In 2014, Fortify Rights documented the systematic use of torture by Myanmar authorities against Kachin civilians from June 2011 to April 2014, and later published evidence that the Myanmar Army had targeted, attacked, and killed civilians with impunity in fighting in Kachin State and northern Shan State. Fortify Rights believes these abuses constitute war crimes.
“Soldiers have committed abuses while the military controls the courts and retaliates against those who speak out,” said Matthew Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights. “Ongoing impunity is one of the biggest obstacles to positive change in Myanmar. The international community should redouble support for efforts to ensure accountability at all levels.”