A Burmese army officer has filed a lawsuit against a Kachin religious leader for mentioning “the promotion of democracy and federalism” with Donald Trump during a July visit to the White House.
Lieutenant-Colonel Than Htike of the Northern Command in Kachin State sued Kachin Baptist Convention president Hkalam Samson in the state capital of Myitkyina.
A live broadcast of the meeting between Trump and representatives of ethnic minorities was posted on Facebook.
Dr Hkalam Samson, who leads a congregation of more than 400,000 people, and fellow Kachin pastor, Langjaw Gam Seng, attended a meeting of global victims of religious persecution organised by the US State Department.
Other representatives came from Iraq, Tibet, North Korea, Iran and Cuba. Langjaw Gam Seng was tortured by Burmese troops for allegedly helping the media gain access to Mongkoe in northern Shan State in 2016 during clashes.
In December last year, Kachin activists who led anti-war protests in Myitkyina were each sentenced to six months in jail and fined for “defaming” the army.
Hkalam Samson told Trump there was no religious freedom in the semi-democratic union and that oppression and torture were common.
He asked for Trump’s backing in the transition to “genuine” democracy and federalism.
He praised as “helpful” recent US sanctions against commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing, the most powerful figure within government, and other leaders over extrajudicial killings of the Rohingya in Rakhine State. The officers named are now denied access to the US.
The sanctions came a day after the US announced the entry ban for “gross violations of human rights” and “atrocities” in Rakhine State.
Military spokesman Brigadier Zaw Min Tun said last month that the US sanctions harmed the dignity of the army but would have limited impact as the targeted officers had no need to visit the US.
The US ambassador to Myanmar, Scot Marciel, met the pastors when they returned to Yangon to ease concerns they would face immediate arrest.
Hkalam Samson said: “I emphasised that there is no religious freedom in the country. However, it was not focused solely on the Christian community but the religious community as a whole throughout the country.”
The Myitkyina court is due to decide on September 9 whether to accept the case.
Kachin State-based lawyer Mung Seng Tu told the Irrawaddy the pastor had a right to express his views and he did not intend his comments to be broadcast.
Kachin State has a large Christian community. Picture credit: Wikimedia