Myanmar Military Withdraws Defamation Lawsuit Against Ethnic Kachin Pastor

The Myanmar military on Monday dropped a lawsuit against an ethnic Kachin religious leader for comments he made about human rights violations by soldiers in the Southeast Asian nation during an informal meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump in July.

The complaint against Reverend Hkalam Samson, president of the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC), was dropped when the Myitkyina Township Court was scheduled to hear the case, said Judge Than Tun.

“Lieutenant Colonel Than Htike, who had filed the case, submitted a request to settle and withdraw the case on Sept. 9, so the court has allowed the settlement in accordance with legal procedure[s]… Dr. Hkalam Samson has been acquitted," he said.

Than Htike from the Northern Command based in northern Myanmar’s Kachin state filed the complaint against the religious leader on Aug. 26, accusing him of defaming the armed forces based on a live broadcast in which Hkalam Samson told Trump that oppression and torture were still common in the country.

The pastor 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 posted on Facebook.

Hkalam Samson, who has faced persecution in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar because of his Christian faith, told RFA’s Myanmar Service that he had yet to receive an official notice that the complaint has been dropped.

He also said that pressure from abroad likely prompted the military to withdraw the lawsuit.

“I’m happy about the Tatmadaw’s [Myanmar military] constructive decision,” Hkalam Samson said. “Growing international [pressure] probably led to the decision.”

The military’s withdrawal of the lawsuit came four days after the U.S. State Department issued a statement expressing deep concern over the criminal case against the religious leader.

The armed forces, however, denied that it had dropped the complaint because of pressure from the U.S.

“We withdrew the case before the court decided whether Dr. Hkalam Samson was to be charged,” said Myanmar military spokesperson Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun. “The reason for dropping the case is based on free will and not because of any pressure.”

Hkalam Samson and Kachin pastor Langjaw Gam Seng 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.

Reported by Elizabeth Jangma for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Nandar Chann. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.