A Kachin man has been found guilty of defamation after accusing the Burmese army of responsibility for his daughter’s death.
Brang Shawng, a villager from Hpakant in Kachin State, filed a complaint with the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission alleging that his 14-year-old daughter, Ja Seng Ing, was fatally shot on her way home from school amid clashes between the Burmese army and Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in the area in September 2012.
In his complaint, Brang Shawng blamed government troops for the death of Ja Seng Ing, but was subsequently sued for defamation by Maj. Zarni Min Pike.
The army has insisted Ja Seng Ing died of shrapnel wounds in a mine blast remotely triggered by Kachin Independence Army rebels.
Brang Shawng was found guilty of defamation by a court in Hpakant Township on 13 February and sentenced to pay a 50,000 kyat (US$50) fine.
The trial began in 2013, but stalled as the plaintiff was repeatedly absent from proceedings. The hearing was re-adjourned more than 50 times. Zarni Min Pike finally made an appearance at Hpakant court on Monday, 12 January.
“I lost the case, but I do believe that the judge had to make a tough decision, and that he handed me a lenient verdict. Nonetheless, it is good that the trial has been concluded instead of dragging on longer,” Brang Shawn told DVB, adding that he had already paid the fine.
He said he had to sell most of his belongings to cover court expenses during the lengthy case.
Brang Shawng’s lawyer Ywat Nu Aung said an appeal against the court’s verdict was planned.
“The Hpakant court found him guilty of the charge under Penal Code Article 211 – defamation. We understand that this was a difficult finding for the judge,” she said.
“As we believe that our client is innocent, we are going to follow due process and file an appeal.”
Seven other local villagers, including an eight-year-old child, were also injured in the incident when Ja Seng Ing was killed.
In a statement released on Tuesday, Amnesty International said that: “The charges against Brang Shawng are politically motivated and solely in retaliation for his complaint against the Myanmar Army. As such, his sentence should be overturned.”
There has been outspoken international condemnation for the case against Brang Shawng. Last year, six leading human rights groups co-signed an open letter to Burmese President Then Sein calling for all charges against the villager to be dropped.
Speaking in December, Matthew Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights, said: “The authorities should punish soldiers who commit crimes, not retaliate against individuals like Brang Shawng who seek truth and justice.”