The United States has called for the release of Christian and ethnic Kachin leader Reverend Dr. Hkalam Samson who has been arrested, detained, and put on trial in Burma.
Rev. Samson is one of the country’s leading religious figures. He is an advisor to the Kachin Baptist Convention after having served for a decade as president and general secretary of the group. The Convention has an estimated 400,000 members, the majority of whom are ethnic Kachin. He is also President of the Kachin National Consultative Assembly.
Rev. Samson is a prominent advocate for human rights, including religious freedom, for people of all faiths. He is also known for his humanitarian work.
Regime authorities in Burma detained him on December 4, 2022, before he was to leave for Bangkok for medical care. He faces three charges, including under the country’s Counter Terrorism Law, which includes incitement to violence. His lawyer told Radio Free Asia that the court said Reverend Samson was charged under terrorism laws because he had met officials of Burma’s National Unity Government. If convicted on all charges, he faces more than 10 years in prison.
“We are extremely concerned for his wellbeing and safety and urge our partners and allies to join us in calling on the regime to drop all charges and immediately and unconditionally release Reverend Samson,” State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said. “Reverend Samson’s incredible work advocating for religious freedom, justice, peace and accountability should be celebrated and replicated, not condemned.”
Human rights groups and civil society organizations have joined in calls for his release, including Human Rights Watch, who called the charges against Rev. Samson “politically motivated,” and “a heavy-handed attempt to chill all dissent among ethnic minority leaders.”
In its most recent report on international religious freedom, the State Department noted that senior U.S. officials have consistently raised with the Burma military regime “ongoing U.S. concerns about religious freedom, including the plight of the majority Muslim Rohingya in Rakhine State, hardships facing Christian minority religious communities in Kachin, northern Shan, and Chin States amid ongoing violence.”
State Department Spokesperson Price said, “We … urge the regime to cease it unconscionable repression against religious actors and communities in Burma and end the violence.”