Tatmadaw sues KBC leader over comments at White House meeting

By YE MON | FRONTIER

YANGON — The leader of the Kachin Baptist Convention, Reverend Hkalam Samson, is facing legal action from the Tatmadaw over comments he made in the United States expressing support for its decision to impose sanctions on Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and three other senior officers.

At a White House meeting with President Donald Trump on July 17 as head of a KBC delegation, Hkalam Samson thanked the US for banning visits to the country by Min Aung Hlaing, Deputy Commander-in-Chief Vice Senior General Soe Win, Brigadiers-General Than Oo and Aung Aung, and the families of all four officers.

The sanctions decision, which the reverend described as “helpful”, came a day after the US announced the entry ban over what it called “gross violations of human rights” in Myanmar and “atrocities” against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State.

The lawsuit was filed by Lieutenant-Colonel Than Htike from the Tatmadaw’s Northern Command with the Myitkyina Township Court on August 26.

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Kachin media including the Myitkyina News Journal reported on August 27 that a court document said a decision on the charge to be brought against Hkalam Samson would be made on September 9.

Hkalam Samson told Frontier on August 28 that he was aware of the document but was yet to be contacted by the court. He said he never thought he would face legal action over what he said at the meeting with Trump.

“I spoke about what was really happening in our country, and I think what I said about the US sanctions decision made them [the Tatmadaw] angry,” he said in a telephone interview.

Hkalam Samson, who leads a congregation of more than 400,000 people, told the US president that there was no religious freedom in Myanmar and that oppression and torture were still common.

“We ask the American government to focus on ethnic people and ethnic leaders to get genuine democracy and genuine federalism,” the reverend was quoted as telling Trump.

Military spokesperson Brigadier-General Zaw Min Tun said on July 16 that the move by the Trump administration had harmed the dignity of the Tatmadaw, but would have limited impact as the sanctioned officers had no need to travel to the US.

Kachin youth activist Lum Zawng said that Kachin youth would stand by Hkalam Samon, and said freedom of expression in Myanmar was under threat.

“It is not a crime. He [Hkalam Samson] was just discussing the situation in the country and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s government should do something about it,” he told Frontier by phone on August 28.

“I understand that the military has the right to sue, but the courts have never rejected previous cases brought by the Tatmadaw, even if they were not fair,” he said.

In December last year, Lum Zawng and two other Kachin activists who led anti-war protests in the Kachin State capital, Myitkyina, were each sentenced to six months’ imprisonment and fined K500,000 after being convicted under section 500 of the Penal Code for defaming the Tatmadaw.

The convictions followed a complaint filed by Lieutenant-Colonel Myo Min Oo of the Northern Command, over speeches the trio made during the protests.

On March 29, the Kachin State High Court rejected appeals against the convictions by Lum Zawng and another activist, Zau Jat, but approved the release of the third, Nang Pu, on the grounds that her health had suffered in prison.

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