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Myanmar’s junta re-arrests Baptist pastor

It remains unclear why Dr. Hkalam Samson was detained just hours after being freed on April 17
Dr. Hkalam Samson with his family members after his release from jail on April 17

Dr. Hkalam Samson with his family members after his release from jail on April 17. (Photo: File)

Published: April 19, 2024 06:12 AM GMT
Updated: April 19, 2024 06:26 AM GMT

A prominent Baptist pastor in Myanmar has been detained just hours after being freed from prison under an amnesty, according to Baptist church sources.

Dr. Hkalam Samson, former head of the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC), was among 100 political prisoners out of 3,303 freed to mark the civil war-hit nation’s New Year on April 17.

“The only thing that’s clear is that the military fears Samson’s organizational prowess and commitment to freedom of religion and belief, and sees him as a threat to their efforts to control Kachin state,” Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, told UCA News on April 19.

Local authorities went to his house in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin state, around 9 p.m. on April 17 and detained him.

Earlier in the day, his family and members of the KBC had greeted him after he was freed from prison.

“We are seeking updated information to get him released as we are shocked at the re-arrest,” said a church source who requested anonymity.

The pastor’s wife and a member of the Kachin-based Peace Talk Creation Group were also detained.

Robertson said international organizations should speak out publicly to demand “the immediate and unconditional release of Rev. Samson, his wife and associates.”

“We have asked for prayers for the pastor and his family,” the KBC said in a statement on April.18.

It remains unclear why the pastor was re-arrested by the junta, which toppled the civilian government in February 2021.

The pastor appeared to have lost weight after 16 months behind bars, according to the KBC.

More than 26,500 people have been arrested since the military seized power, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

Samson was originally arrested at Mandalay International Airport on Dec. 4, 2022, while on his way to Thailand for a medical check-up.

He played a vital role in organizing rescue operations after an airstrike by the junta on a music festival, organized by rebels in A Nang Pa, a village in Kachin state, in October 2022.

The pastor became a thorn in the side of the military in 2019 when he told former US president, Donald Trump, about the oppression of minorities, including Christians, in Myanmar.

He was among a select group from 17 nations invited by the US administration to meet Trump.

The United States has called Samson “a prominent, well-respected religious figure for advocating freedom of religion.”

The military regularly targets Kachin state, a region of 1.7 million people with a significant Christian population, including 116,000 Catholics.

Myanmar has an estimated 53.5 million people and 87.9 percent of them are Buddhists, while 6.2 percent are Christians.

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