The Myanmar military has filed a lawsuit against an ethnic Kachin religious leader for comments he made about human rights violations by soldiers in the Southeast Asian nation during a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump in July, in the latest defamation complaint to be lodged by the armed forces against its critics.
Lieutenant Colonel Than Htike from the Northern Command based in northern Myanmar’s Kachin state filed the complaint against Reverend Hkalam Samson, president of the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC), in Myitkyina Township Court on Monday, the religious leader told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
He filed the defamation lawsuit based on a live broadcast in which Hkalam Samson, who has faced persecution in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar because of his Christian faith, told Trump that oppression and torture were still common in the country.
Myanmar’s military, which stands accused of wide-ranging atrocities both in modern times and during its 1962-2011 rule over the country, routinely uses criminal defamation laws to punish its critics.
During his brief meeting with the American president, Hkalam Samson thanked Trump for imposing travel bans on top Myanmar military commanders involved in a violent crackdown on Rohingya Muslims in 2017.
He also appealed to Trump to take action against religious persecution in Myanmar and to support the country’s transition to genuine democracy and federalism during the live broadcast, which was posted on the Facebook page of World News Now, the overnight broadcast service of ABC News in the U.S.
The KBC president, who has not yet received a subpoena from the court, said that his appeal to the U.S. president was not done out of contempt for the Myanmar military.
“My motivation is to achieve the development of and peace in Myanmar as a genuine democracy and federalist [state],” he said. “I have no grudge or detrimental intention against anyone. I am willingly to settle this prosecution in court. I have no concerns about that.”
The court will decide whether it will proceed with the case by Sept. 9.
Survivors of religious persecution
Hkalam Samson and Kachin pastor Langjaw Gam Seng, a KBC youth leader, were among a group of more than two dozen survivors of religious persecution who had an unscheduled meeting with Trump on July 17 during an annual U.S. government gathering on religious freedom in Washington.
Langjaw Gam Seng had been detained in 2016 for taking journalists to see a Catholic church damaged in clashes between the government army and ethnic guerillas in northern Shan state.
He later was sentenced to two years and three months in jail for violating the Unlawful Associations Act on charges of having provided support to the rebel Kachin Independence Army (KIA).
Myanmar military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun told RFA that he did not know anything about the lawsuit against Hkalam Samson.
Colonel Tun Nay Linn, commander of the military’s Northern Regional Command, could not be reached for comment.
Aung San Win, spokesman for Myanmar’s Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture, declined to comment on the matter.
Myo Nyunt, spokesman for the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party, also declined to comment, saying he was not aware of Hkalam Samson’s statements to the U.S. president. He said that the religious leader had the right to prove himself innocent during a trial.
Headquartered in the state capital Myitkyina, the KBC is an evangelical Christian organization that promotes human rights and provides humanitarian assistance to civilians displaced by armed conflict between Myanmar forces and the KIA.
Hostilities between the Myanmar Army and the KIA resumed in the region in June 2011 following the breakdown of a 17-year bilateral peace accord.
Reported by Elizabeth Jangma for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.