Date: December 14, 2022
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 675
BURMA (MYANMAR) & INDONESIA: DECEMBER SHOCKS
By Elizabeth Kendal
BURMA (MYANMAR): CHRISTIAN LEADER ARRESTED
Rev Dr Hkalam Samson, 2019.
Junta officials have arrested and are preparing to prosecute one of Burma’s most significant and influential religious leaders and human rights advocates. A former chairman of the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC), the Reverend Dr Hkalam Samson currently serves as chairman of the Kachin National Consultative Assembly (WMR), a group comprised of Kachin religious, political and civil society leaders. In 2019, Dr Samson travelled to Washington, DC to participate in the International Religious Freedom Ministerial Conference. Invited to the White House, he spoke with President Trump about the Burmese military’s religious oppression of ethnic minorities. Upon his return the military’s Northern Command attempted to open a lawsuit against him but was ultimately forced to drop the case.
Dr Hkalam Samson was detained on Sunday 4 December at Mandalay International Airport as he was about to board a flight to Bangkok where he was to receive medical treatment. He was held and interrogated overnight at Central Military Headquarters, before being put on a flight back to Kachin State. Upon his arrival at Myitkyina Airport, Dr Samson was arrested and taken away by officers of the junta’s Northern Regional Military Command. On Tuesday 6 December the junta’s Security and Border Affairs Minister in Kachin State, Col. Aung Kyi Lin, summoned four KBC officials, explaining that the junta was preparing to prosecute Dr Samson. In a video posted on the KBC’s Facebook page (Wed 7 Dec), Deputy Secretary of the KBC, the Reverend Lahpai Zau Ra explains: ‘We were shown video files of the Bishop’s speeches and told he had committed offences. We were shown points he preached in Bible classes. We were told they were preparing to take action because he is guilty.’ Rev. Lahpai Zau Ra said he did not know which section of the Penal Code Dr Samson would be charged with or where he is being held. Myitkyina residents believe Dr Samson is being held at Northern Command headquarters in the Kachin State capital, Myitkyina.
Myanmar map, showing location of Kachin capital, Myitkyina. Click here for enlarged map.
The junta has recently escalated its attacks on Kachin State, accusing the state’s ethnic Kachin Independence Army of aiding anti-regime resistance forces. [For background see RLPB 590, Christian Crisis Looms, 24 March 2021.] On Sunday 23 October 2022 Kachin civilians gathered in A Nang Pa region of Hpakant township, Kachin State, to celebrate the 62nd anniversary of the formation of the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO). At around 8:30pm, junta military jets dropped at least three bombs onto the open-air gathering turning the celebration into a massacre. Junta forces then obstructed roads, preventing the wounded from reaching the hospitals. More than 60 people were killed, making it the deadliest single airstrike since the junta seized power in February 2021. The Reverend Dr Hkalam Samson arranged the funerals and led the efforts to secure emergency medical care for the wounded. The KBC has formed a committee dedicated to working for Dr Samson’s release.
PLEASE PRAY that our compassionate, sovereign Lord would protect, sustain and deliver Dr Hkalam Samson. May God – whose throne is founded on righteousness and justice and who goes forth in love and faithfulness – intervene in Burma/Myanmar to end this horrendous war and deliver his precious Church from genocidal terror. ‘Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you’ (Psalm 89:14 ESV)
Prayer for Burma: Psalm 10
INDONESIA: GREAT LEAP FORWARD FOR ISLAMISATION
On Tuesday 6 December, the Indonesian Parliament passed its revised Criminal Code (Undang Undang Kitab Hukum Pidana, or KUHP). [Full text, in Indonesian.] A previous attempt in 2019 triggered enormous protests so, this time, politicians limited public consultation, ignored widespread criticism and rushed it through at short notice. Insiders say Vice-President Ma’ruf Amin (79), a conservative cleric and former chairman of the Indonesia Ulema Council (MUI), was behind the push to get the revised Code through. [For more on VP Ma’ruf Amin, see ‘Indonesia: from Pancasila to Islamisation’, RLM, 11 April 2019.] Critically, the revised Criminal Code empowers the government at the expense of the people by giving the state a legal weapon it can wield against its critics. For example: the new code criminalises attacking the ‘honour or dignity’ of public officials, including the president and members of the government; and truth is not a defence (Articles 218-220).
Christian convert and blasphemy prisoner, Muhammad Kece, at his appeal, June 2022. (Photo: Andhika Prasetia/detikcom)
While Western politicians, institutions and mainstream media have blasted the Code’s attack on sexual freedom and privacy, they have remained largely silent on the Code’s attacks on freedom of speech, association and religion. Most critically for the archipelago’s religious minorities, the revised Criminal Code recognises ‘any living law’ – such as customary law or Sharia law – operating at the local level (Article 2). It also expands the 1965 blasphemy law from one article to six (Articles 300-305), while Article 304 bans apostasy, along with any effort to persuade a person to apostatise/convert. The Indonesian government has defended its stance, insisting it is merely upholding ‘Indonesian values’, as if ‘Indonesian’ is now synonymous with ‘Islamic’.
The law still requires the president’s signature. Even then, it will not come into effect immediately, as it could take up to three years to get the necessary implementing regulations in place. The revised Criminal Code will most certainly be challenged in the Constitutional Court, which unfortunately is not as independent as it used to be. In recent months the parliament – with the president’s approval – recalled and replaced Justice Aswanto after he ruled against laws (deeming them flawed) that the parliament had passed. Would any judge dare defy parliament now?
PLEASE PRAY for God to raise up articulate, principled and courageous religious liberty advocates at every level of Indonesian society. May the Lord redeem this threatening situation for his good purpose. ‘For nothing will be impossible with God’ (from Luke 1:35-38 ESV).
PRAY especially for Muhammad Kece – a former Islamic teacher turned Christian apologist – as he spends his first Christmas in an Indonesian prison. In February, Kece was sentenced to ten years in prison because of his apologetics ministry [see RLPB 639, ‘Apologist Kece Jailed for Ten Years,’ 30 March 2022]. On 6 June, Kece’s sentence was reduced on appeal to six years in prison. His health has been fragile; his faith will be tested. May the Lord sustain and deliver him!