By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
(Worthy News) - Three Kachin Baptist pastors detained for organizing prayers for peace are among more than 5,000 inmates freed in Myanmar, also known as Burma, church sources say.
The trio from the Kachin Baptist Convention denomination gained their freedom October 18 under an amnesty given by the country’s military rulers to 5,600 political prisoners.
Among them was a 70-year-old who had health problems with high blood pressure, Worthy News learned.
Pastors Koshan Singsar, Z Kaw Htinah and M Hawng Di were detained in June for organizing a March 3 inter-denominational prayer service in Naungmoon township of Putao district.
Christians said Myanmar military chief Min Aung Hlaing granted the amnesty if the pastors and thousands of other political prisoners after being excluded from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit.
His government has come under international pressure following the military coup on February 1 that ousted elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Under the military rulers’ penal code the pastors could receive up to three years’ imprisonment. They faced what critics view as trumped up charges of incitement to cause fear, spreading false news, and agitating for criminal offenses 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, Christians said.
Christians, already suffering persecution for many years, were targeted during the latest conflict, raging in Myanmar since the February military coup, rights activists say.
Churches have been regularly raided and shelled, particularly in Karen, Chin, and Kachin states, where high numbers of Christians live, Worthy News documented.
Myanmar’s military chief granted the 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. The gesture also saw 1,316 other prisoners released “out of respect for the humanitarian cause”.
Tom Andrews, the United Nations special rapporteur on the Myanmar human rights situation, reacted with caution. He reportedly stressed that the military government’s amnesty does not represent a change of direction, as arbitrary arrests continued.
“The junta is releasing political prisoners in Myanmar not because of a change of heart, but because of pressure,” he added in a statement.