Myanmar Baptist leader sued over oppression claim

But Reverend Samson expresses a willingness to defend his comments in court
Myanmar Baptist leader sued over oppression claim

United States President Donald Trump meets with survivors of religious persecution on July 17 in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP)

A prominent ethnic minority Kachin Baptist leader is facing a lawsuit for alleging at a July meeting with United States President Donald Trump that Myanmar’s military oppresses minority Christians.

Reverend Hkalam Samson, head of Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC), was among 27 people from 17 countries alleged to be victims of religious persecution who were invited to meet Trump.

That was linked to a U.S. State Department-hosted conference in Washington to promote religious freedom.

"As Christians in Myanmar, we are … being oppressed and tortured by the Myanmar military government," Rev. Samson told Trump during the televised meeting.

He said he was thankful for the U.S. imposing an entry ban on four top Myanmar military leaders and their families over human rights abuses against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State.

During the meeting, Rev. Samson called on the U.S. government to help all ethnic minorities in Myanmar achieve genuine democracy and federalism.

 On Aug. 26, Myanmar's military responded with a lawsuit filed by Lt. Col. Than Htike in a court in Myitkyina, the capital city of Kachin State.

The court is scheduled to decide on Sept. 9 whether to proceed with the case, according to a court document.

However, it is not yet known under what legal provisions the lawsuit has been filed.

Rev. Samson said it is good that the military had transparently filed a complaint through legal channels. "I have no concerns over the lawsuit and I will face a court with more explanation of my comments if the case goes ahead," he told ucanews.com.

The military has routinely used anti-defamation laws that carry prison sentences to stifle critics, including activists, journalists, filmmakers and monks.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division, said the allegations against Rev. Samson are baseless and should be dropped as he was presenting an accurate picture when he told Trump that Myanmar's Christian ethnic minority peoples have been "oppressed and tortured" by the military, known as the Tatmadaw.

"Sadly, attacking critics with ludicrous criminal charges in Myanmar's politically compliant court system appears to be the Tatmadaw's new system for silencing domestic complaints about their horrible human rights record," Robertson told ucanews.com.

He added that Aung San Suu Kyi and fellow members of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) need to snap out of their stupor and abolish rights-abusing laws.

The Kachin Baptist Convention has played a vital role in providing humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons in Kachin and neighboring Shan state since 2011.

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Conflict has plagued this mountainous region since Myanmar gained its independence from Britain in 1948. Most of Kachin's 1.7 million people are Christians, including 116,000 Catholics.

Myanmar's military is accused of human rights abuses against ethnic minority groups in Kachin, Shan and Rakhine states.

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