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Myanmar army sues religious leader who told Trump the military 'tortured' Christians

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By Sam Aung Moon

YANGON (Reuters) – A Myanmar religious leader is facing a legal complaint from an army officer after telling U.S President Donald Trump the military was oppressing and torturing Christians in the Buddhist-majority country, he and a court official told Reuters.

Trump and other U.S officials met victims of religious persecution from countries including China, Turkey, North Korea and Iran during a July 17 visit to the White House arranged by the State Department.

Reverend Hkalam 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”.

A military officer, Lieutenant Colonel Than Htike, later filed a lawsuit at Myitkyina township court, in the capital of Kachin state, in northern Myanmar, according to Nan Aung, the head of office. Reuters was unable to reach the officer for comment.

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

She told Reuters a preliminary hearing in the case would be held on Sept. 9.

Two military spokesmen did not answer calls seeking comment.

The court official declined to elaborate on the details of the charge. The official added that a copy of a letter detailing the lawsuit about Samson published by local media was meant for internal use only.

Local media reported the leaked letter said the officer filing the complaint had demanded legal action after finding Samson’s speech posted on Facebook.

“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 via phone.

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 the strongest steps yet taken by Washington in response to the massacre of Rohingya Muslims.

A military crackdown in Myanmar in 2017 drove more than 730,000 Rohingya to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh, according to U.N. 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 Sam Aung Moon. Editing by Poppy McPherson and Angus MacSwan)

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