Last Friday, two Burmese (Myanmar) pastors, Dumdaw Nawng Lat, 67, and Langjaw Gam Seng, 35, were found guilty of violating the Unlawful Associations Act and the Export and Import Law. The Human Rights Watch organization has accused the government of retaliating against the pastors for talking to journalists about alleged airstrikes the Myanmar military launched near civilian structures including churches.

Dom Dawng Nawng Latt received four years three months while Langjaw Gam Seng was sentenced to two years and three months.

The military arrested the ethnic Kachin pastors on Christmas Eve last year. The two men were held for months without charges being brought until army prosecutor Maj. Kyaw Zin Htun accused them of working with the armed radical group Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and of driving a motorcycle without a license.

Fellow Burmese Pastor Zau Ra is adamant that the charges are false and that the men should be freed.

He told Morning Star News, “They should not be jailed. We will continue to help them in legal means. We will submit an appeal. We will ask for a bail. We will ask for their release.” He added, “There is no evidence. They are just religious leaders, and they may have travel anywhere for preaching or prayer. Religious leaders should be free to go for preaching and praying anywhere. If they were to help an armed group, that is the different story.”

Deputy Asia director at HRW Phil Robertson condemned their arrest. “Myanmar’s government should be prosecuting military personnel who are responsible for serious abuses. Not activists who are bringing those abuses to light,” he said. “Myanmar’s military has for decades violated the rights of the country’s ethnic minorities without ever having to fear being brought before a court.”

HRW called for the pastors' immediate release in a post on their website. The U.S. Embassy in Yangon issued a statement expressing "concern" over the arrests of the two pastors:

We are concerned about the sentencing today of two religious leaders from the Kachin Baptist Church, pastor Nawng Latt and youth leader Gam Seng, under article 17/1 of the Unlawful Association Act, section 500 of the penal code for criminal defamation, and the Export Import Act. They were detained by the military on December 24 and held incommunicado for a month after helping reporters from Yangon investigate continued reports of fighting and military abuses against villagers in Kachin State and northern Shan State. We are concerned that these individuals were targeted for assisting journalists. We are also concerned about allegations of mistreatment during their detention. We call for the end of the use of the Unlawful Association Act and other laws used to arbitrarily arrest citizens, and we call on all actors to build trust and keep Myanmar on the path toward national peace and reconciliation.

The two Kachin men are members of the Kachin Baptist Convention and served as assistant pastors in their communities.