After spending more than 15 months in prison, two Baptist pastors in Myanmar were suddenly released on April 17. Langjaw Gam Seng, 36, and Dumdaw Nawng Latt, 67, were among about 8,500 prisoners released by a decree of Myanmar President U Win Myint in a move timed to mark the start of the new year in Myanmar. Most of those released — more than 6,000 — were reportedly drug offenders. Myint, a former political prisoner, just assumed the presidency on March 30 after the previous president resigned for health reasons.
“Now we are free and we feel happy,” Langjaw told The Telegraph. “I hope our land will be peaceful in the future so this kind of thing would not happen again.”
Langjaw and Dumdaw first disappeared on Christmas Eve in 2016, a month after they assisted journalists in documenting the destruction of a Catholic church and other civilian structures allegedly damaged by military airstrikes. Nearly a month passed before the military of Myanmar finally admitted it had detained the two men. On Oct. 27, Langjaw was sentenced to two years and three months in prison, while his uncle Dumdaw was sentenced to four years and three months. Dumdaw received an extra two years for public statements on the case that the military called defamation.
Brang Di, the attorney for the two pastors, told The Telegraph the men were in good health and were greeted by their families upon their release.
“We are here with both of them and the whole Baptist community is very happy to have them back,” he added. “Everyone is praying for them and encouraging them.”
Zau Ra, general secretary of the Kachin Baptist Convention in which Langjaw and Dumdaw are a part of, told Morning Star News that the community is “happy that they were freed,” but noted they still spent more than a year in prison.
“It is not good for them, their family and even for the convention,” he said. “It was a waste of time, and it was not fair.”
“It is important that respective authorities make sure that this wouldn’t be happening in the future, as we are in peace-building process,” Ra added. “This would harm relationship and trust- building between the government and civilians.”
A year after the detention of Langjaw and Dumdaw, two Reuters journalists were arrested after reporting on the military killing ten Rohingya Muslims. The two journalists were not among the prisoners released in April.
Update on Sending Letters
In the April issue of Word&Way, Editor Brian Kaylor urged Baptists to pray for Langjaw and Dumdaw, and to send letters to encourage them in prison. After the issue went to press, Myanmar selected its new president, who then released the two men nearly three weeks later. Word&Way will still send the letters to Langjaw and Dumdaw, but will now send those letters through their convention instead of to prison.
“We praise God for the answer to prayer for our two brothers in Christ,” Kaylor said. “Jesus said in his first sermon that he came ‘to proclaim freedom to the prisoners.’ We’ve seen a bit of that jubilee here.”
“I’m thankful for those who have already sent letters for Langjaw and Dumdaw,” Kaylor added. “We will still send the letters to encourage them even more in their freedom, to let them know that they were not forgotten and that Baptists in the U.S. were praying for them. Although physically free, the emotional and spiritual trauma of the past year-and-a-half will take longer to set aside.”