Myanmar Baptist Leader Sentenced to 6 Years in Prison for ‘Unlawful Association’

Former head of the Kachin Baptist Convention Hkalam Samson was sentenced to six years in prison on Good Friday by Myanmar’s military junta.  His charges are to six years in prison, terrorism, and unlawful association. Hkalam denies the charges, which international rights groups and the Kachin diaspora believe to be politically motivated.

The first charge is the result of a Zoom prayer meeting with Kachin Christians where he called the young people to build “the nation in Christ,” according to the The New York Times.

The seond and third charges stem from Hkalam’s 2022 trip to Laiza in Kachin state, where he met with Kachin leader Duwa Lashi La, the head of Myanmar’s government-in-exile, and General Sumlut Gunmaw, the vice chief of staff of the Kachin Independence Army, which has long fought against the Myanmar military.

“He is a man who knows God and loves God,” Hkalam’s wife, Zung Nyaw told the Times. “He is a preacher, so he has no enemies. He is a person who sacrifices himself and helps others.”

In July 2019, Hkalam Samson, a pastor from a predominantly Christian ethnic group in Myanmar, met with President Donald Trump at the Oval Office. Standing with a group of victims of religious persecution from around the world, he shared how the Kachin people were “oppressed and tortured by the Myanmar military government” and thanked the Trump administration for placing sanctions on four top generals.

According to Christianity Today (CT), three and a half years and one military coup later, Hkalam was arrested at the Mandalay International Airport on December 4. The junta charged him with unlawful association and breaking the country’s counterterrorism law for meeting with Kachin armed forces and praying with the leaders of Myanmar ’s government in exile, the National Unity Government. Hkalam, the former head of the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC), faces up to 13 years in prison.

At the time of his arrest, 65-year-old Hkalam was traveling to Bangkok for medical appointments. His family is now concerned for his health: In January, his wife said he was suffering from pneumonia and high blood pressure, and she had not been allowed to send him medicine or food.

Known internationally for his diplomacy and peacemaking skills, Hkalam has been a leading advocate for the Kachin people, who have been engaged in an ongoing civil war with the military junta for decades. Calls for Hkalam ’s release have sounded from around the globe, including from the U.S. State Department, human rights groups, and the Kachin diaspora.

“He’s the image of Kachin Baptist churches, and he’s the image of the Kachin people,” said Labya La Seng, the pastor of Dallas-Fort Worth Kachin Baptist Church and president of the Kachin American Baptist Association.


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