Myanmar’s Junta Adds New Charge Against Kachin Christian Leader

By The Irrawaddy 12 January 2023

Myanmar’s military regime has filed a fresh charge against Dr. Hkalam Samson, the former president of the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC), indicting him for incitement to go with a previous charge of unlawful association, according to a family member.

The Baptist leader was remanded in custody at a closed court inside a prison in Kachin State’s Myitkyina on Wednesday. His trial is scheduled to begin on Friday.

“It appears that his case will be heard at the court inside the prison. We haven’t yet been allowed to see him. We could only see him from a distance [on Wednesday],” said a relative.

The former KBC president left Myitkyina for Mandalay on December 5 to catch an onward flight to Bangkok. He was detained at Mandalay airport and put on a flight back to Myitkyina, where he was arrested. Family members have not been allowed to see him since his arrest.

According to initial reports, he has been charged with defaming the military in his sermons. But details are still unknown.

Dr. Hkalam Samson is also President of the Kachin National Consultative Assembly, a group of Kachin State religious and political leaders who help foster communication between the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and the local community. The KIO’s armed wing, the Kachin Independence Army, has been actively fighting the regime since last year’s coup, while also training and arming People’s Defense Forces battling the junta.

If convicted, the doctor faces up to three years in prison under the Unlawful Association Act plus up to two years in prison under Section 505 (a) of the Penal Code on incitement.

Family members are concerned about his health, as the Kachin faith leader is on medication for high blood pressure and bronchitis.

“We hope justice will win in this case. We want him to be freed as soon as possible. He is old and it is upsetting to see him in prison,” said one family member.

Civil society organizations in Kachin State issued a joint statement on December 27 calling for the immediate release of the doctor on humanitarian grounds and for the sake of peace.

In 2019, the Myanmar military’s Northern Command attempted to take legal action against Dr. Hkalam Samson for telling then United States president Donald Trump about the military’s oppression of ethnic minorities in Myanmar. The case was dropped on the orders of military chief and current junta boss Min Aung Hlaing.