US Condemns Myanmar Junta’s Graft Case Against Kachin Christian Leader

By The Irrawaddy 24 February 2023

The United States has condemned the Myanmar military regime’s arrest and detention of prominent Kachin Christian leader Reverend Hkalam Samson on politically motivated charges under counterterrorism and other laws.

The Kachin State Baptist leader was arrested in December by the regime for defaming the military in his sermons, according to reports.

He was initially detained and charged with unlawful association in January, before being indicted for incitement. On February 14, the junta filed a further charge under the counterterrorism law, accusing Dr. Samson of meeting with a member of the opposition National Unity Government (NUG). On Tuesday, he was being tried by a court inside Myitkyina Prison in Kachin. The trial’s outcome is not yet known.

On Thursday, State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters that the US denounced Dr. Samson’s arrest and detention and had asked its allies to push the regime to release the religious leader.

“We are extremely concerned for his well-being and safety, and urge our partners and allies to join us in calling on the regime to drop all charges and immediately and unconditionally release Reverend Samson,” he said.

He added that the Baptist leader’s “incredible work” advocating for religious freedom, justice, peace, and accountability should be celebrated and replicated, not condemned.

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 fighting the regime since the 2021 coup while also training and arming resistance People’s Defense Forces.

If convicted, the reverend 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. He also faces seven years in jail if convicted on the counterterrorism charge.

Family members said they haven’t been allowed to meet him and are concerned about his health as the Kachin faith leader is on medication for high blood pressure and bronchitis.

In 2019, the Myanmar military’s Northern Command attempted to take legal action against Dr. 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.