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Myanmar's junta set to prosecute Baptist pastor over speeches, preaching in Bible classes

Hkalam Samson
The Rev. Hkalam Samson, president of the Kachin Baptist Convention speaks with President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, D.C. on July 17, 2019. |

Myanmar’s police and junta troops have detained a well-known Baptist bishop, Hkalam Samson, at an international airport as he was about to fly abroad for medical treatment and are preparing to prosecute him for an undisclosed offense related to his speeches and Bible classes.

Bishop Samson, an adviser to the Kachin Baptist Convention, was arrested at Mandalay International Airport on Sunday as he was leaving for Thailand for medical treatment. The following day he was taken on a plane to Kachin state to be prosecuted, Radio Free Asia reports.

“We were shown video files of the bishop’s speeches and told he had committed offenses,” the Rev. Lahpai Zau Ra, deputy secretary of the KBC, was quoted as saying in a video posted on the group’s Facebook page Wednesday. “We were shown points he preached in Bible classes. We were told they were preparing to take action because he is guilty.”

Zau Ra said it was not known what the alleged offense is and where Samson is being held.

Samson, who previously served as KBC president and secretary, is president of the Kachin National Consultative Assembly, a group of local religious and political leaders who help foster communication between the Kachin Independence Organization, which is the political wing of the Kachin Independence Army, and the local community.

Formerly known as Burma, the Southeast Asian country is home to the world’s longest Civil War, which began in 1948.

The conflict between the military, locally known as Tatmadaw, and ethnic minority militias escalated after the February 2021 military coup, as the ethnic militias have been supporting pro-democracy protesters. The conflict zones are along Myanmar’s borders with India, Thailand and China.

Christians make up just over 7% of the majority-Buddhist nation but are a majority in Chin State, which borders India, and Kachin State, which borders China. Christians also make up a substantial part of the population of Kayah State, which borders Thailand.

The bishop arranged the funerals of more than 60 victims of an Oct. 23 junta airstrike on a KIO anniversary concert in Hpakant township and tried to arrange for the seriously injured to receive emergency medical treatment at the nearest hospitals, RFA noted.

A month after the incident, he took part in a prayer meeting in Myitkyina, organized by the Myanmar Council of Churches, which represents the country’s Christian groups, to commemorate the victims.

“At a time when faith leaders can play an indispensable role in building lasting and just peace, many continue to be targeted and imprisoned. I strongly advocate for the immediate release of Dr. Samson and for his free and full movement,” Baptist Standard quoted Elijah Brown, general secretary and CEO of the Baptist World Alliance, as saying.

Calling for Samson’s immediate release, the Burma Advocacy Group of the American Baptist Churches, USA, said in a statement that Samson is “a key religious leader in Burma” who worked “tirelessly with people of different faiths to promote religious liberty and tolerance.”

Members of Emmanuel Chin Baptist Church, a Burmese congregation in Ohio, have been seeking to bring America’s attention to the humanitarian situation in Myanmar, according to The Columbus Dispatch.

The church's pastor, the Rev. John Van Nun Tluang, and his congregants are calling on Ohio's U.S. congressional delegation to support a bill focused on Myanmar that would commit more than $270 million for humanitarian assistance and civil society aid, and increase targeted sanctions on junta members.

In June, multiple reports, including by the U.N., revealed that Myanmar’s Buddhist nationalist junta had disproportionately targeted religious minorities, including Christians, and brutally attacked and killed hundreds of children since the military coup.

Tom Andrews, the U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, said in a report at the time that “the junta’s relentless attacks on children underscore the generals’ depravity and willingness to inflict immense suffering on innocent victims in its attempt to subjugate the people of Myanmar.”

Focusing on the killing of children, the U.N. rapporteur said during his fact-finding for the report, “I received information about children who were beaten, stabbed, burned with cigarettes, and subjected to mock executions, and who had their fingernails and teeth pulled out during lengthy interrogation sessions.”

Myanmar is ranked No. 12 on Open Doors USA’s 2022 World Watch List of 50 countries where Christians face the most severe persecution. The persecution level in Myanmar is “very high” due to Buddhist nationalism. Burma is recognized by the U.S. State Department as a “country of particular concern” for egregious violations of religious liberty.

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