World News

U.S. voices concern over Myanmar army's lawsuit against religious leader

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States said on Thursday it was deeply concerned about the Myanmar army’s filing of a lawsuit against a religious leader who told President Donald Trump the military oppressed Christians in the Buddhist-majority country.

FILE PHOTO: Pro-military demonstrators take part in a protest against the U.S. sanctions imposed on Senior General Min Aung Hlaing in Yangon, Myanmar, August 3, 2019. REUTERS/Ann Wang

The criminal complaint against Reverend Hkalam Samson “seeks to unduly limit his freedom of expression and potentially could disrupt his critical work on behalf of tens of thousands of internally displaced people,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.

She said the United States was “deeply concerned” by the lawsuit and that any decision to “arrest Reverend Samson on the basis of his protected speech would be deeply troubling.”

Samson took part in a July meeting at the White House where victims of religious persecution from a number of countries met with Trump and other U.S. officials.

Samson, of the Kachin Baptist Convention, an organisation based in the northern Kachin state representing Myanmar’s mostly Christian Kachin minority, said Christians were being “oppressed and tortured by the Myanmar military government.”

He also thanked Trump for sanctions imposed on senior military officials, saying it was “very helpful.”

The complaint filed a week ago refers to a live broadcast of the meeting with Trump, which was streamed on the Facebook page of ABC News’ World News Now. It asks for legal action but does not specify a charge.

“I think the reason the military is trying to sue me is because I told Donald Trump that I appreciated the sanctions against the Myanmar military,” Samson told Reuters by phone last week.

The United States banned Myanmar military Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing, three other senior commanders and their families from entering the United States in response to the massacre of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

A military crackdown in Myanmar in 2017 drove more than 730,000 Rohingya to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh, according to United Nations figures. U.N. investigators have said Myanmar’s operation included mass killings, gang rapes and arson and was executed with “genocidal intent.”

Myanmar denies the charge, saying it was conducting a legitimate campaign against insurgents who attacked police posts, killing members of the security forces.

Reporting by Mohammad Zargham in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis