Burma’s military regime has sentenced a prominent Christian pastor and ethnic Kachin leader to six years in prison after a trial conducted in secret on what the United States called “military-led, manufactured charges of terrorism, unlawful association and inciting opposition to the regime.”
The sentencing of Reverend Dr. Hkalam Samson took place on April 7, Good Friday, one of the holiest days of the Christian calendar. On May 2, the same court that issued his sentence denied his appeal.
The United States has called for his immediate and unconditional release.
Reverend Dr. 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. He is also President of the Kachin National Consultative Assembly.
Reverend Dr. Samson is a renowned advocate for human rights, including religious freedom for people of all faiths. In addition, he is well known for his humanitarian work in Burma. In October 2022, he coordinated medical assistance and funerals for those injured or killed in a regime airstrike on Hpakant township in which 60 people died, and later he held a prayer meeting in the Kachin state capital for the deceased.
In a statement, U.S. Principal Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel said Burma’s brutal military regime has targeted Dr. Samson for his courageous work. “Reverend Dr. Samson has devoted his pastoral career to supporting peace efforts, drug eradication, advocating for justice and equality for Kachin Christians and throughout Burma, and facilitating the safe and voluntary return of more than 100,000 displaced Kachin people to their homes.”
The State Department’s most recent international religious freedom report on Burma noted, “Since 1999, Burma has been designated a ‘Country of Particular Concern’ (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom. On November 15, 2021, the Secretary of State redesignated Burma as a CPC.” The cruel sentencing of Reverend Dr. Samson demonstrates the appropriateness of that designation.
“We urge the regime,” said Principal Deputy Spokesperson Patel, “to cease its unconscionable repression against religious actors, communities and houses of worship in Burma, and end the violence.”