Myanmar military detains Kachin religious leader 

Well-known Kachin reverend Dr Hkalam Samson was arrested by junta personnel at the Mandalay International Airport on Monday and has not been heard from since, Myanmar Now has learned. 

Dr Samson was detained at 9am, before his flight to neighbouring Thailand, where the former chair of the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) was reportedly travelling to undergo medical treatment. 

The KBC was notified by junta authorities that Dr Samson had not been arrested but that his passport had been flagged, and instead of going to Thailand, he was sent on a domestic flight to the Kachin State capital of Myitkyina. 

KBC staff awaited his arrival at the Myitkyina airport, but he was never seen disembarking the plane. 

A pastor from the organisation told Myanmar Now on Monday evening that military representatives then informed KBC that the reverend had been transferred to the Northern Military Command headquarters, also located in Myitkyina. 

“We were only told that they took him for interrogation, but we didn’t get to talk with him directly,” the pastor said.

The KBC has called for Dr Samson’s immediate release. 

As of Tuesday morning, a source within Kachin State civil society told Myanmar Now that there had been no further update regarding the reverend’s condition, whereabouts, or explanation as to why he had been targeted at this time. 

“We don’t know anything for sure yet. Some people are saying that he was sent back to Myitkyina, but when we asked for him in Myitkyina, they told me he wasn’t there,” he explained. “We are also still trying to find out why he was arrested.” 

Former KBC chairperson Dr Samson (left) is seen meeting with Myanmar army generals at the Northern Military Command in Myitkyina in December 2020 (Senior General Min Aung Hlaing website)

While serving as KBC chair in 2019, Dr Samson met then US President Donald Trump in Washington DC and told the American head of state that the Myanmar military had “oppressed and tortured” Christians in the country. During the televised exchange, he also endorsed US sanctions against top army officials. 

The military then ordered the Myitkyina Township court to open a criminal case against Dr Samson, which it dropped three days later, at which time the reverend was invited to a meeting at the Central Military Command headquarters in Mandalay. 

There he met with commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing in what he described as “a transparent exchange of hearts” without “pretenses.” 

“He said his decision [to drop the case] had nothing to do with any international pressure. It was of his own volition. He decided to do so because he understands that trying to prosecute me [for what I said to Trump] was not a good idea,” Dr Samson told Myanmar Now at the time. 

He again met with top-level generals at the Northern Military Command in Myitkyina in December 2020, two months before the coup in February 2021.

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