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Myanmar pastor booked under Unlawful Association Act

The latest case against Pastor Hkalam Samson comes as Christian-majority states witness more airstrikes, artillery attacks

Reverend Hkalam Samson (center) of the Kachin Baptist Convention leaves Myitkyina Township Court in Myitkyina, capital of northern Myanmar's Kachin state, Sept. 9, 2019

Reverend Hkalam Samson (center) of the Kachin Baptist Convention leaves Myitkyina Township Court in Myitkyina, capital of northern Myanmar's Kachin state, Sept. 9, 2019. (Photo: Radio Free Asia)

Published: January 03, 2023 11:47 AM GMT

Updated: January 04, 2023 04:05 AM GMT

A prominent pastor detained in Myanmar has been charged under the draconian Unlawful Association Act by the military junta.

A fresh case has been slapped on Pastor Hkalam Samson under the Unlawful Association Act after he was detained by local authorities at Mandalay International Airport on Dec. 4 while on his way to Bangkok for a medical examination.

If found guilty under the colonial act the former leader of the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) will face three years in jail and will have to pay a fine.

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The junta allegedly arrested the pastor to prevent him from airing his views outside the country as he had done earlier.

The pastor is currently lodged in a prison in Myitkyina, the capital of Christian-majority Kachin state, where the junta is engaged in heavy fighting with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

The standoff between the warring factions has increased after the military’s aerial attack on a music festival in A Nang Pa village in Kachin state in October last year, which claimed 63 lives.

The air strike on Oct. 22 is one of the worst attacks in Kachin state since the junta wrested power through a military coup on Feb. 1, 2021, and deposed the elected government led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. 

The detained pastor is reported to have supervised the funerals of many victims.

The trial against Pastor Samson is expected to start on Jan. 11, media reports said, citing his family members.

In 2019, the military tried to initiate legal action against Pastor Samson for telling then US president, Donald Trump, that the junta was oppressing ethnic minorities, including Christians, in Myanmar. He was among the select group of 27 people from 17 countries invited by the US administration to meet Trump.

Later, the case against Pastor Samson was dropped at the instruction of military chief Min Aung Hlaing, who is currently at the helm of affairs of the civil war-torn Southeast Asian nation.

Pastor Samson is currently serving as an advisor to the KBC after working as president of the organization for a decade. He has also acted as its general secretary.

Pastor Samson also acts as chairman of the Kachin National Consultative Assembly, the political arm of the KIA.

The assembly comprises religious leaders, politicians and members from the Kachin Independence Organization, the armed wing of KIA, which has been actively fighting the regime since the coup.

With no sign of easing, the civil unrest in the largest country in Southeast Asia has taken a heavy toll.

The Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners says more than 2,600 civilians have perished and more than 1.1 million people have been displaced since the coup.  

The junta has managed to erase a decade of economic improvement under civilian rule and the World Bank says nearly 40 percent of the country’s 54 million population now make less than $4 a day.

Christians make up nearly 8 percent of the population of Myanmar.

The KBC and the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) and civil society groups have urged the military junta to immediately release Pastor Samson and drop the fresh case against him.

“At a time when faith leaders can play an indispensable role in building lasting peace, many continue to be targeted and imprisoned,” Elijah Brown, general secretary and CEO of the BWA, said.

“I strongly advocate for the immediate release of Dr. Samson and for his free and full movement,” Brown demanded.

The detention of a faith leader who has devoted his life to the cause of humanity can seriously undermine peace in the country, civil society organizations in Kachin state said in a joint statement on Jan 3.

The latest case against the pastor occurred when the Christian-majority states of Kachin, Kayah, Karen and Chin are witnessing air strikes, artillery attacks and the burning of houses allegedly by the junta.

Churches, convents and church-run institutions are often targeted and priests and pastors are rounded up. 

Since the toppling of the civilian government, Christians are paying a heavy price and often face arbitrary arrests, killings, torture and rape at the hands of the military.


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