Kachin Pastor Sued by Burmese Army Pursues Justice

By Gina Goh

09/10/2019 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern)The leader of the Kachin Baptist Convention, Rev. Hkalam Samson, was sued by a Myanmar military (Tatmadaw) officer on August 26 over comments he made regarding Christian persecution in Myanmar when he met with US President Donald Trump in July.

At a side event of the Ministerial to Advance International Religious Freedom, Rev. Hkalam Samson, along with Kachin youth pastor Langjaw Gam Seng, expressed his support for Washington’s decision to impose sanctions on Tatmadaw Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and three other senior officers, calling the decision “very helpful.”

He also told President Trump that there was no religious liberty in Myanmar and that oppression and torture were still common in the country, where fighting between ethnic armed organizations and the Tatmadaw continues, despite a return to civilian rule. Christians are also being “oppressed and tortured by the Tatmadaw.”

While the charge against Rev. Samson was not specified, many came forward to show support for him, including U.S. government leaders.

On August 30, The World Kachin Congress (WKC) issued a statement, standing behind Rev. Samson’s testimony to President Trump, saying that his comments regarding the Kachin people’s plight were completely truthful and endorsed by Kachin worldwide. There is no basis for criminal charges to be brought against him.

WKC also urges the Tatmadaw to immediately drop all charges against Rev. Samson, to stop instigating undue tension with ethnic minority communities by persecuting human rights defenders, and to invite the Independent Impartial International Monitoring team to validate the claim of no religious oppression in Myanmar.

In a statement issued on September 5, US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said that the criminal complaint against Reverend Hkalam Samson “seeks to unduly limit his freedom of expression and potentially could disrupt his critical work on behalf of tens of thousands of internally displaced people.”

She added the United States was “deeply concerned” by the lawsuit and that any decision to “arrest Reverend Samson on the basis of his protected speech would be deeply troubling.”

On September 1, in response to the recent killing of Kachin civilians in Shan state and his lawsuit, Rev. Samson shared on Facebook:

Dead, But Alive!

My dear children, grandchildren and members of the church, you are not dead.

Your sufferings are not forgotten, and they have become voices which never die off!

With the remaining members of congregations, I have decided to journey for truth and justice till the end.

I am told that lawsuit against me would be dropped off if I agree to write a confession letter to Tatmadaw.

However, I do not want to trade off the truth for my own individual escape. I would like to give respect to all who were murdered, raped and tortured wrongfully during 60 years of bloodshedding oppressions. The blood of victims of unjust acts are crying and speaking.

A Kachin Christian who requested anonymity told ICC, “Tatmadaw cannot arrest Rev. Samson for what he said in the US. The law doesn’t allow them to punish him for what he did outside of the country. Institutions and churches are endorsing him.”

Her comment was echoed by Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission lawyer U Min Lwin Oo. In an interview with VOA Burmese service on August 28, he said, “In a legal sense, I think it is not legally appropriate to request punishment in Myanmar for an incident that took place somewhere outside their rule of law constituency.”

He added that it would be hard to build a case just based on Rev. Samson’s comments at the event which was streamed live on Facebook.

Regardless of how the situation develops, please pray for protection for Rev. Samson from any possible attacks or arrest, as he continues to bear witness to his people’s oppression.

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