A total of 153 of 155 Chinese citizens who were involved in illegal timber extraction have been sentenced to life in prison by Myitkyina district court in Kachin State.
Two children got 10-year sentences and a woman was sentenced to 15 years for drug smuggling.
They were interrogated at the district court after being divided into two groups. Eighty-five Chinese timber smugglers were interrogated by District Judge U Soe Soe while the 70 others were interviewed by Deputy District Judge U Myint Swe.
The final verdict came after a three-month-long trial.
U Khin Maung, a lawyer who represented the Chinese citizens, said: “A total of 153 of 155 Chinese citizens were sentenced to life in prison under section 3 of the Public Property Protection Act. All of them were shocked. There is no news about an appeal. We have 60 days to lodge a complaint with the state-level court. Their relatives were not allowed to attend the trial.”
Police Colonel Myint Htoo from Kachin State police told the Daily Eleven: “Our country carries out the handover of foreign prisoners through the embassies. It is done based on individual cases. There is no law pertaining to the repatriation of prisoners, as our country hasn’t signed deals with other states. We carry out the repatriation of prisoners under the Immigration Act. We will have to think about what to do next only after the court gives a verdict on the Chinese citizens.”
Deputy Secretary Baim Zxon, Chinese counsellor, met the prisoners on January 20. He collected their details and provided them with clothes, utensils and food.
On March 23, the relatives of those detainees staged a demonstration at the customs office, calling for their release. On May 6, the Chinese prisoners quarrelled with Myanmar inmates in the prison, leaving 10 captives injured. On May 8, they appeared in court with tight security.
The court in Waingmaw Township sentenced 155 of the smugglers to six months in prison each under the Immigration Act on April 22. After their initial sentencing, the Myitkyina District Court charged them again under the Public Property Protection Act.
The authorities arrested 149 smugglers and seized more than 400 logging trucks and other vehicles from the timber gang in Waingmaw Township. But no gang leaders were arrested. According to sources, some armed groups were involved in the operation.