Prominent Christian leader charged under Myanmar’s terrorism laws

Hkalam Samson faces a prison sentence of up to 13 years, his lawyer says.
By RFA Burmese
2023.02.15
Prominent Christian leader charged under Myanmar’s terrorism laws Hkalam Samson in a photograph taken on September 19, 2019.
RFA

One of Myanmar’s leading Protestant activists has been charged under the country’s Counter Terrorism Law.

Family members said Dr. Hkalam Samson was charged under Section 52 (a) – which covers incitement to terrorism – by a court in Kachin State’s Myitkyina Prison on Tuesday.

His lawyer, Dong Nang, told RFA the court said it was charging him under terrorism laws because he had met officials of Myanmar’s National Unity Government, which was overthrown by the military in a Feb. 1, 2021 coup.

“They filed a new case for meeting with and praying for the NUG president, Minister of Natural Resources Dr. Tu Hkawng and Minister of Education Ja Htoi Pan in Lai Zar,” he said, referring to an area of Kachin controlled by the Kachin Independence Organization and its military wing the Kachin Independence Army.

Dr. Hkalam, 65, is a former president of the Kachin Baptist Convention and president of the Kachin National Consultative Assembly.

He had already been charged with criminal defamation and unlawful association with an illegal group, according to sources close to the secret court at Myitkyina Prison.

His lawyer told RFA that, with the addition of the new “terrorism” charge, Dr. Hkalam faces a maximum prison sentence of 13 years

Hkalam Samson was arrested at Mandalay International Airport on Dec. 4 on his way to medical treatment in Bangkok, Thailand, because his name was on a no-fly list. He was interrogated overnight at Central Regional Military Command headquarters.

The following day, authorities flew him back to Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin state, where he was again arrested.

Last month, his wife told RFA Dr. Hkalam was suffering from pneumonia and high blood pressure.

Zhon Nyoir, said she was worried about her husband's health because he had not been allowed to see his family since his arrest, and the family was not permitted to send him medicine or food.

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Hkalam Samson speaks at a rally against a Chinese gas pipeline in Myanmar on Jan., 2019. Credit: RFA

At the time of his arrest Hkalam Samson still worked as an advisor for the Kachin Baptist Convention, which has about 400,000 members, most of whom are ethnic Kachin.

He was also president of the Kachin National Consultative Assembly, a group of local religious and political leaders who help foster communication between the Kachin Independence Organization, an ethnic Kachin political group, and the local community.

In October last year, he helped organize hospital treatment and funerals for people injured and killed in a junta airstrike on an annual concert hosted by the Kachin Independence Organization. The group's armed wing has been actively fighting against junta troops since the coup as well as training anti-regime People’s Defense Forces.

More than 60 people died during the attack, Kachin residents said at the time. 

In 2017, Dr. Hkalam visited the White House and thanked then-president Donald Trump for imposing travel bans on senior Myanmar military commanders involved in a violent crackdown on Rohingya Muslims that year. He also appealed to Trump to take action against religious persecution in Myanmar and to support the country’s transition to genuine democracy.

He was sued by Major Thu Aung Zaw of the junta’s Northern Regional Military Command, based in Kachin state, for speaking about Myanmar’s religious and human rights situation during the meeting but the case was later dropped.

Hkalam Samson’s next trial is scheduled for Feb. 21. Family members told RFA they had heard the junta is preparing to level further charges against him.

Translated by RFA Burmese. Edited by Mike Firn.

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