12/07/2022, 12.57
MYANMAR
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Kachin: well-known Baptist pastor arrested

Reverend Hkalam Samson was reportedly taken to an army headquarters two days ago. There is still no news on his release. In the coming hours, new death sentences could be carried out against activists and opponents of the regime. The number of displaced people has risen to 1.4 million but aid workers are finding it increasingly difficult to bring assistance.

Yangon (AsiaNews) - The former president of the Kachin Baptist Convention (Kbc), Pastor Hkalam Samson, was arrested by Myanmar's coup junta while he was at Mandalay National Airport on his way to Bangkok, Thailand, where he was to receive medical treatment.

After a brief interrogation he was released and on 5 December was put on an internal flight to Myitkyina, capital of Kachin State and one of the areas where the Christian presence in Myanmar is concentrated.

The KBC staff waiting for him at the airport, however, did not see him off, Myanmar Now writes. Some military authorities informed the Baptist congregation that Reverend Samson was taken to the headquarters of the Northern Military Command, also located in Myitkyina, but it was not possible to speak to him directly. 

The KBC expressed concern and called for a halt to this 'unreasonable detention', which was conducted without any clear explanation being given. 

Reverend Hkalam Samson is currently president of the Kachin National Consultative Assembly, an organisation that brings together ethnic Kachin religious and political leaders.

The pastor has always been a staunch defender of human rights in Myanmar: in recent months, he attended the funerals of the more than 60 people killed in a military junta airstrike on Hpakant Township, one of the worst bombings since the beginning of the civil conflict, while in the summer of 2019, he had been sued by the military for claiming, in a meeting with then US President Donald Trump, that the Burmese army oppresses the Christian minority. The trial had been dismissed in the following days after the reverend had spoken to the army chief, General Min Aung Hlaing.

In the meantime, while the junta continues to sign cooperation agreements with Russia, internal repression continues indiscriminately and to the almost total indifference of international public opinion: seven university students were sentenced to death last week and it is feared that the sentence may be carried out in the next few hours. Capital punishment against activists and opponents of the regime was reintroduced by the military in July.

The number of internally displaced persons has risen again to over 1.4 million. The 300,000 who fled before the outbreak of the conflict were joined by more than one million in 22 months after the February 2021 coup d'état that ended the government led by Aung Sang Suu Kyi.

According to UN estimates, at least 31,000 civilian buildings (houses, schools, places of worship) have been destroyed by armed attacks by military troops, but the UN itself admits that the figure could be much higher.

Although in the western state of Rakhine a truce has been signed between the army and the local Arakan Army militia to allow the delivery of food and medicine to the civilian population - humanitarian assistance had been blocked since September - the activity of humanitarian workers is being limited by the continuous travel blocks imposed in various areas of the country and by a new law, passed at the end of October, which requires the registration of all national and foreign non-profit organisations.

NGOs and aid workers who do not comply with the new law risk up to five years in prison. According to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, 'these new rules could significantly reduce the operational space left for civil organisations to provide essential goods and services to a population struggling to survive'.

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