Myanmar religious leader detained and banned from leaving the country

Hkalam Samson was held after trying to fly to Thailand for medical treatment.
By RFA Burmese
Myanmar religious leader detained and banned from leaving the country Kachin National Consultative Assembly Chairman Hkalam Samson in a photograph taken on Sept. 9, 2019.

UPDATED at 2:19 p.m. EST on 12-5-2022

Police and junta troops detained well-known Myanmar religious leader Hkalam Samson at Mandalay International Airport as he tried to fly abroad for medical treatment. They released him on Monday after holding him overnight and put him on a plane back to Kachin state, his friends told RFA, but re-arrested him upon his arrival at Myitkyina Airport in Kachin.

A Christian pastor, who did not want to be named for security reasons, said Hkalam Samson was temporarily detained as he was about to board a flight to Bangkok on Sunday.

“Both of his phones were turned off this morning,” the pastor told RFA Burmese. “The last thing I knew was that he was taken away when he was about to board the plane. He did not do anything to get arrested by the military council.”

Other friends said he was detained after airport officials found his name on a junta-compiled list of people banned from leaving the country when they checked his passport.

A second source, who declined to be named citing fear of reprisal, confirmed Hkalam Samson's re-arrest following his Air Than Lwin Airlines flight to Kachin state.

"Yes, definitely true that he was re-arrested [at the airport]. It seems that he was taken by forces from the Northern Military Command. He didn't come out of the airport," the source told RFA.

Hkalam Samson is chairman of the Kachin National Consultative Assembly (WMR), a group made up of religious leaders, politicians from parties in Kachin State and high-ranking members of the Kachin Independence Organization, the political wing of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). The KIA is one of several ethnic armies battling the military junta, which deposed the country’s democratically elected government in a Feb. 2021 coup.

A former chairman of evangelical group the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC), Hkalam Samson is also involved in peace and relief issues in his home state. He supervised the funerals of the more than 60 people killed when junta aircraft attacked a Kachin Independence Army concert in Hpakant township on Oct. 23.

Lamai Gum Ja, a member of the Myitkyina-based advocacy organization Peace-talk Creation Group who has ties to the KBC, told RFA that he had contacted military security agents to find out more about why Hkalam Samson was detained, but had yet to get a response.

"They said they would call back and tell us later, but the communication lines around Myitkyina are also down, so we don't know anything about it," he said.

"I heard that he was arrested again in Myitkyina, but we can't say for sure what the details are yet."

A official with the KBC told RFA on condition of anonymity that Hkalam Samson was "still in detention in Myitkyina."

"He has not been released, despite being arrested for no reason, so we are worried about the allegations ... against him,” he said.

Later on Monday, the KBC issued a statement saying that it was concerned about Hkalam Samson's "unjustified detention" and called for his immediate release.

In 2019, Hkalam Samson was invited to the White House to discuss the state of religious freedom in Myanmar by then-U.S. president Donald Trump. On his return he faced prosecution over the visit by Lt. Col. Than Htike of Myanmar’s Northern Military Command but the case was later withdrawn.

Updated to include information about Hkalam Samson's re-arrest in Kachin state.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the religious leader's name as Kalam Samson.


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