YANGON—The Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw) has dropped a lawsuit against an ethnic Kachin religious leader who discussed religious freedom with US President Donald Trump and asked him to support Myanmar’s transition to “genuine” democracy and federalism at the White House last month.
On Monday, Myitkyina Township Court judge U Than Tun said the plaintiff, Lieutenant-Colonel Than Htike, had withdrawn his legal complaint against the Rev. Dr. Hkalam Samson, who is president of the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC). Based in Kachin State, the group represents Myanmar’s mostly Christian Kachin ethnic group.
U Than Tun told the media that the court would not proceed with any legal prosecution against Dr. Samson, in accordance with the plaintiff’s will.
He did not elaborate on the reason for the plaintiff’s decision.
Rev. Dr. Hkalam Samson told The Irrawaddy on Monday he welcomed the military’s decision to withdraw the complaint against him. He said there had been no negotiations between the KBC and the military aimed at resolving the case.
Military spokesperson Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the Tatmadaw withdrew the case of its own free will, saying the decision was not due to any outside pressure. The US State Department last week voiced concern about the case.
Last month, Lt-Col. Than Htike from the Myanmar military’s Northern Command based in Kachin State submitted the complaint against Rev. Dr. Hkalam Samson at the Myitkyina Township Court. The complaint cited a live broadcast of the conversation between the religious leader and the US president on the Facebook page of the ABC program “World News Now”, according to court documents.
In July, Dr. Hkalam Samson and another Kachin pastor, Langjaw Gam Seng, attended a meeting of victims of religious persecution from around the world organized in Washington by the US State Department. They attended the meeting alongside people from 17 countries including Iraq, Tibet, North Korea, Iran and Cuba. Pastor Langjaw Gam Seng was arrested and tortured by the Myanmar Army for his role in helping journalists cover clashes in the Mongkoe area of northern Shan State in 2016.
During the meeting, Dr. Hkalam Samson told Trump there is no religious freedom in Myanmar and that oppression and torture are still common in the country, where fighting between ethnic armed organizations and the Myanmar military continues despite a return to civilian rule.
He also requested Trump support Myanmar’s transition to “genuine” democracy and federalism.
Dr. Hkalam Samson also thanked the US for imposing sanctions against Myanmar military commander-in-chief Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing and other leaders over extrajudicial killings of Rohingya Muslims. The sanctions bar the officers from entry to the US.
Fearing a possible reaction from the Myanmar military, the general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance sent a letter in mid-August to UN and US officials registering concern regarding the safety of the two pastors as fears spread that they would be arrested at the airport for criticizing the military.
Responding to the group’s concern, US Ambassador to Myanmar Scot Marciel met with the pastors soon after they landed at the airport in Yangon.
The US State Department said last week that the criminal complaint against Dr. 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.”
Writing in a Facebook post, Dr. Samson said on Sunday that he had been told the lawsuit against him would be dropped if he wrote a letter of confession to the military.
Indicating that he had rejected this proposal, he wrote, “I don’t want to trade off the truth [for] my own individual escape. I would like to give respect to all who are murdered, raped and tortured wrongfully during the 60 years of blood-shedding oppression.”
He added, “The blood of victims of injustice … [is] crying and speaking.”
The Irrawaddy attempted to contact Lt-Col. Than Htike but several calls went unanswered.
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