Junta Orders Burning Of 16,000 Bibles, Halts Church Construction
Source: Chin Freedom Coalition
In June 2000, the SPDC officials in Tamu ordered 16,000 copies of the Bible to be burned in Tamu, Sagaing Division that borders India. These Bibles, which were seized last year by the Burmese Army, are in Chin, Karen and other ethnic languages. Leaders of the Council of Churches in Tamu area are approaching the Burmese military regime not to burn the Bibles. An appeal was also made in early July of this year by the Myanmar Baptist Convention, the organization that represents all Baptist Churches in Burma, to the top SPDC officials in Rangoon. As of today, they received no reply from the Army.
Early 1999, the Burmese Army also seized 30,000 copies of Bible written in Chinese language and which had been kept in the military store rooms in Kaley Wa, Sagaing Division. Every church member was afraid to claim these Bibles. In May and June, 2000, the Military Intelligence of the Burmese Army ordered all church building construction in Tiddim area of Chin State to stop. The buildings included the Evangelical Baptist Church in Myoma Quarter, Faith Bible Theological Seminary in Lawibual Quarter, Sakollam Baptist Church, and Lawibual Baptist Church. During first week of July 2000, worship services at the Lai Baptist Church at No. 41 U Aung Min Street, Ward 2, Mayangone, Bayint Naung Post Office, Yangoon, Myanmar, was prohibited by the authority. Most of the Chin people in the Rangoon area attend worship services here.
At present, the congregation is worshipping at Myanmar Institute of Theology at Seminar Hill, Insein near Rangoon. The church has been closed since June 2000 in spite of church leaders requests for reopening.
A REFLECTION BY AN EYEWITNESS
(Religious Persecution In Chin State)
At mid night on 16. May 1994 the Township Law and Order Restoration Council (TLORC) of Tonzang (Chin State), with the co-operation of the Township Police Force burnt down a cross on top of the hill over looking the town, which was set up by the Catholic congregation there. TLORCs of every township in the Chin State had the order from the State authorities (SLORC) in Haka to dismantle all the crosses. At that time the Baptist Church and other Christian denominations had already dismantled their crosses (set up at the same location) on their own as they did not want to defy the order from the authorities.
This tradition of setting up crosses on top of the hills has been started around the 1970s throughout Chin State, when the Buddhists started to build pagodas on top of the hills with the encouragement by the military government. As the vast majority of the Chin people are Christians they do not want their landscape to be filled with pagodas. As such they started to set up crosses on hilltops around the country before the Burmese authorities could build pagodas. In fact, there have been Buddhist pagodas in almost every major town in Chin State since more than forty years ago [after Independence & the Chin joined the so-called Union of Burma] and this has been tolerated as there are some Burman Buddhists, who are government servants stationed in Chin State and a few Chin converts as well. In the case of the Catholic Church in Tonzang, the Catholics did not want to dismantle their cross as it had been set up with catholic rituals such as blessing and pouring of the holy water by the Priest. At first the TLORC in Tonzang was reluctant to pull down the Catholic’s cross by themselves even though they knew that the Catholics were not going to do it on their own.
The conflict between the Church and the local authorities started when the TLORC recruited a forced labour for the construction of a road for the hydroelectric power project near Tonzang. The town’s people were aware that the Chin State authorities had allotted some amount of budget for the construction of the said road. But the TLORC simply wanted the money for themselves to line their own pockets and thus forced the people to labour without any wage. Three town elders, who happened to be Catholics, wrote a complaint letter to the State authorities in Haka about the corruption and some TLORC officials were transferred as a result. The entire TLORC officials were so angry with this incident and as a result they now came to see the Catholics as dissenters. In retaliation the TLORC and the police force burnt dawn the cross as mentioned above. Furthermore the police arrested four Catholic elders for three days on the ground that they were responsible for defying the State authorities by refusing to dismantle the cross.
After three days they took them to the court and appeased them not to bring this case any further to the higher authorities and declared the case closed. Nevertheless, one of the elders was sent to Rangoon to complain about the incidents of pulling down crosses in Chin State. But the Deputy Minister Col. Aung Khin of the Interior and Religiuos Affairs Ministry did not take the complaint seriously and instead said that he would see when the case would be put up to him by the TLORC of Tonzang. (NOTE: An eyewitness who was in Tonzang during the incident compiles this report for CFIS. His name is withheld according to his wish).
SPDC STORMED CHIN CHRISTIAN CHURCH
Source: NLD Central Executive Committee Press release
On the 7th July, 2000, Chairman of the Tamu township authority Captain Khin Maung Myint and his group went to the Seventh Day Adventist Church in the village of Tin-ka-ya which is about 6 miles from Tamu (Sagaing Division). He summoned the village chairman U Htaung Kho Yan and other leaders including U Htan Lein (Mission School teacher) to a meeting. After that Captain Khin Maung Myint insolently stepped up on to the pulpit with his army boots , a place that is regarded with great reverence by the Christians who normally take their shoes off as a mark of respect. He shouted rudely “With whose permission was this school opened. Where is the permit?” The church elders very courteously explained that in 1976 together with the school for religious teaching the school to teach the basic reading and writing skills was opened.
Captain Khin Maung Myint refused to accept any explanation given by them. His attitude was that of an adversary. He ordered U Htaung Kho Yan and U Htan Lein to stand up in front of him and beat them both on their backs and faces with the special offertory bags used by the church. Not content with doing that he drew his revolver out and pointed it at their heads one after the other. Then he took two bullets out boasting haughtily ” These bullets are for you Chins”. He went on punching and kicking them. He smashed the chairs and tables and other paraphernalia (bibles and sound system) on the pulpit and spat out vile expletives against the Chin people and the Christians. The expressions he used are extremely odious that they cannot be repeated. It damages one’s character and dignity. He then had both U Htaung Kho Yan and U Htan Lein arrested and locked up at the Tamu police station. On 10 July 2000 he ordered the closure of all the Christian schools in the township. News of this was published in the foreign media on 15 July. This caused him to fly into a rage. U Pa Jya Kin, the pastor of the church was arrested and locked up in the police station where the torture and persecution could be compared to the fascist torture chambers. In addition, as a punishment, all the villagers of Tin-ka-ya were made to plough the ten acres of land, which was his private property.
The military dictators are constantly proclaiming that there is freedom of worship, but the above clearly proves that this is not so. It also reflects their attitude towards the ethnic minority groups. They are steeped in the belief that they are superior. They lord it over all the smaller ethnic groups. This is so very transparent. Moreover, every kind of pressure is applied to non-Buddhists and the right to freedom of worship is denied to them. This we see very clearly with our own eyes. 6. The National League for Democracy vigorously and emphatically denounces · this behaviour and attitude of the military dictators in the treatment of the national groups, · in the bullying tactics to bind them with fear and terror, · in their disregard for the provisions of Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18 on ” freedom of religion”. We urge them to take effective action as required by law against those who have no qualms about flouting the law and cavalierly brutalize others.
Source: Central Executive Committee
National League for Democracy
West Shwegonedine Road
Rangoon , 7 August 2000
NOWHERE TO GO
(Hundreds of Chin Refugees Trapped in the Island of Pacific)
September 30, 2000
Chin Human Rights Organization CHRO had learned that about three hundreds Chins are taking refuge in Guam, a small island in the Pacific Ocean which is the United States’ territory. They all claimed that they fled from the merciless persecution of the ruling Burmese military regime State Peace and Development Council SPDC in their homeland.
The refugees include men, women with various backgrounds such as Church leaders, politicians, doctors, teachers, lawyers, traders, students and farmers. They are seeking refugee status in United States and waiting to be determined their case by the United States Immigration and Naturalisation Service US INS.
Some of the refugees are charged with illegal entry and detained by the authority of Guam on their arrival. Many more are surviving in the island with the help of local Churches and Chin communities around the world. Last week, one of the refugees Mr. K … ( name omitted ) who is under detention in Guam had called CHRO office in Ottawa to explain the situation of Chin refugees in the island. ” I am lucky among the refugees because I am in detention and I do not need to worry for food and shelter. But those who are surviving in the island have problems for their survival, they are facing shortage of food, shelter and even clothing” he said. Mr. K….was Church Council Chairman of Thantlang Baptist Church which have more than 3000 members and the biggest church in Thantlang township, Chin State. He was accused of supporting Chin National Front CNF and arrested twice by the military regime. Chin National Front CNF is an armed resistant party fighting against the ruling Burmese military regime to restore democracy and self determination. Mr. K … said that ” we have nowhere to go, we faced rampant human rights violations in our own home. We can’t even conduct worship service without their ( the military authority ) permission. The people are living in constant fear of the Military Intelligence Service MIS. Even if we fled to neighbouring countries there is still no safety. We could be arrested at any time and send back to Burma”. Last month Indian authority had arrested hundreds of Chin refugees in Mizoram State and deported to Burma.
A glance at background situation:
The story of Mr. Pu Al Bik, an influential trader and a good man from the town of Thantlang is one good example that how the military junta in Burma made to flee people from their home. Pu Al Bik was accused of supporting CNF in 1996 and sought to arrest by the MIS. Thus he fled to Malaysia and stay there for two years. His family and relatives bribed a good deal of money to the authority in Thantlang for Pu Al Bik safe return. After taking a good deal of money, the authority of Thantlang guaranteed Pu Al Bik safe return. Thus, he came home from exile to reunite with his family in 1998. But his dream was not long lasted. Soon after he got home, the MIS summoned him to their camp. There, he was put in the dark room without food and inhumanly interrogated and tortured for two weeks. During the two weeks interrogation, no one was allowed to see him.
After two weeks of interrogation, Pu Al Bik was charged with Unlawful Association Acts and sentence to seven years jail term with hard labour and sent to Kalaymyo, Sagaing Division. Just before he was sent to Kalaymyo, the relatives were allowed to see him. At that time his face was black and badly swollen. He couldn’t even eat or walks due to torture. The story like Pu Al Bik is no longer strange among the Chins under SPDC regime. The military junta has massively increased its military deployment in Chinland, creating an atmosphere for the systematic abuse of human rights. Religious persecutions and portering for the Burmese army is especially rampant across Chinland. Other human rights violations reported are: forced labour, relocation, extortion, rape, arbitrary arrest and killings. There was only one Burmese army battalion stationed in Chin State before 1988. At present more than 10 battalions of Burmese army are operating in Chinland.
According to CHRO document, at least 20 persons from Thantlang area alone were badly tortured by the Military Intelligence Service MIS in last year and they are now serving long term imprisonment with hard labour. They all are accused of supporting the movement of opposition party. Due to rampant human rights violations committed by the Burmese military regime in Chinland, a bout 50 thousands Chins are taking refuge in neighbouring countries. Hundreds of Chins are now fleeing from their home as far as a small island in the Pacific Ocean in search of a safe heaven.
US SAYS BURMA GUILTY OF CONTINUED RELIGIOUS REPRESSION
NEW YORK, Sept 5 (AFP)
The United States claims in a new report issued Tuesday that Myanmar’s junta shows no sign of diverting from a long trend of discriminating against religious minorities.
The report on International Religious Freedom accuses junta troops of destroying holy sites in areas populated by some of the country’s myriad ethnic minorities. “Security forces have destroyed or looted Buddhist temples, churches and mosques in ethnic minority areas,” said the report. “Government security forces continued efforts to induce members of the Chin ethnic minority to convert to Buddhism and prevent Christian Chin from proselytizing by highly coercive means.”
The report also says there is “credible evidence” that officials and security forces compelled people to donate labour, or money to build, renovate or maintain Buddhist monuments. “The Government calls these contributions voluntary donations” and imposes them on Buddhists and non-Buddhists” the report said. Evidence also existed of severe legal, social and economic discrimination against the Muslim Rohingya minority in the western state of Arakan, the report said.
“There were credible reports that Muslims in Arakan state continue to be compelled to build Buddhist pagodas as part of the country’s forced labour program. These pagodas are often built on confiscated Muslim land.” The United States is a constant critic of Myanmar’s military government and a strong supporter of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Myanmar was one of five countries on which were slapped with symbolic US sanctions for alleged religious intolerance late last year.
CHRISTIAN CHURCH ORDER TO DEMOLISH IN HAKA, CHIN STATE
On 12 June 2000, the CHRO received a report from a reliable source that the Burmese military junta, the State Peace and Development Council, issued an order to demolish the United Pentecostal Church located on Cherry Street in downtown in Haka, the capital of Chin State.
In addition, a church pastor Rev. Tin Hei has been placed on trial in a Chin State court. The report was confirmed by a Rangoon pastor from the same denomination who is now studying in the United States. The pastor said that the people spent a good deal of money to obtain permission from the authorities to build the church, which they constructed only after they received permission from the Ministry of Religion. The church building was completed in 1999.
In January 1999, six pastors including a woman minister were arrested for erecting a cross on their mountain top in the town of Thantlang, 20 miles from Haka. In addition, in July 1999, two pastors from the town of Thantlang were arrested for conducting a Church council meeting without the army’s permission.
On 9 September 1999, the United States’ Department of State, in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, released its first Annual Report on Religious Freedom. The report provides accurate documentation of the Burmese Army’s systematic violation of religious freedom in Burma. The United States’ State Department has designated Burma, along with China, Iran, Iraq, and Sudan, as one of five countries of particular concern for violations of religious freedom.
Over 90 percent of Chins are Christians and religious persecution is a major concern in Chin State.
The Burmese military regime continues persecution of Chin Christians and the killing of innocent Chin villagers in Chin State in the Union of Burma. On June 13, 2000, Chin State authorities of the SPDC in Haka, the capital of Chin State, summoned Rev. Tin Hei, a pastor of the United Pentecostal Church (UPC) and ordered him to discontinue the construction of the UPC building on Cherry Street.
The building is comprised of three floors, one for the church, the other for the Haka UPC District office, and the third for the pastor’s quarters. When a Students Festival was held in Haka on April 25-28, 1998, Chin Christians were forced to construct the bleachers and seats so that SPDC leaders could watch the games in comfort. Chin villagers were forced to manually gather hardwood from the forest to construct the seats.
At the conclusion of the games, the officials sold the hardwood and kept the profit. The UPC Church bought some of the wood from the SPDC to build its building. Since the construction of “church buildings” is not permitted under SPDC regulations, a church has to be built as part of a larger building. But the construction of a Buddhist temple does not require permission from the SPDC.
The UPC met all the SPDC’s requirements for the construction of the building and had received permission from the SPDC to proceed. Work on the building began in early 1999 and was nearly complete when the order to discontinue was issued. The SPDC ordered the construction to stop for two years even though the UPC had prior permission to complete the building.
The SPDC did not give any specific reasons why they stopped the construction. Similarly, on June 29, the SPDC officials in Kalemyo ordered the Agape Church of the Assembly of God in Pinlong Ward, Kalemyo in Sagaing Division to stop the construction of their church building.
The church pastor, Rev. Go Za Nang, had obtained prior permission from the military authorities. The order was given without explanation.
NO RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN BURMA
The majority population of Chins are Christians and religious persecution is a major concern in Chinland. The following statement demonstrates how the Burmese military regime systematically carried out religious persecution up on the Chin peoples in Burma. Below is an excerpt from a statement made by Pu Zo Tum Hmung during the Baptist World Congress held in Melbourn, Australia in January 2000.
Human Rights Under the leadership of General Ne Win, the Burmese Army has ruled Burma for 38 years, sometimes in uniform and sometimes under the guise of civilian dress. Since 1988, when the Army brutally repressed nationwide democratic uprisings, there has been neither Constitution nor legislature in Burma. Held at gunpoint, the people must answer “yes” to the Army’s orders, regardless of truth or reality. Dictatorial rule has led to severe economic hardship and civil unrest in Burma. According to the United States Committee for Refugees based in Washington DC (1988 USCR World Refugee Survey) there are more than 215,000 refugees from Burma living in Thailand, India, Bangladesh, and Malaysia. Approximately one million refugees are internally displaced, a number that increases daily. These reports are telling of the human rights situation in Burma .Indeed, forced and unpaid labor are so widespread in Burma that in June1999 the International Labor Organization passed the following resolutions: “That Government of Myanmar should cease to benefit from any technical cooperation or assistance from the ILO,” [ILO Resolution 28-C (a)] and “That the Government of Myanmar should henceforth not receive any invitation to attend meetings, symposium and seminars organized by the ILO.” [ILO Resolution 28-C (b)]. Moreover, since 1989, the United Nations General Assembly has passed annual resolutions urging the Burmese Army to stop violating human rights. The resolutions have been to no avail.
There is no religious freedom in Burma. Because the military regime is Buddhist, religious persecution is directed primarily at the ethnic minority groups, such as Christians and Muslims. Out of a population of 48million people, only 4 percent are Christian, while more than 80 percent are Buddhist. In August 1999, the Roman Catholic Bishops of Myanmar and the Myanmar Council of Churches stated in their letter to the Military Regime head office in Rangoon the following concerns: “Christian mission work was not permitted in some states and townships, forbidding church worship services, arresting and persecuting believers, ministers forced to stop their work, Christians forced to abandon their beliefs and destroy crosses”. On September 9, 1999, the US Department of State, in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, released its first Annual Report on Religious Freedom. The report provides accurate documentation of the Burmese Army’s systematic violation of religious freedom in Burma. In addition, the State Department has designated Burma, along with China, Iran, Iraq, and Sudan, as one of five countries of particular concern for violations of religious freedom. On September 23, 1999, the Burmese military regime responded in typical fashion to the 1999 State Department Report, stating: “The 1999 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom issued by the Untied States Department of State is inaccurate and misleading.”(Embassy of the Union of Myanmar in Washington, DC). This statement is not true, as I will demonstrate on a case by casebasis:
1) Freedom to Construct Churches
The military regime does not permit the construction of “churches” Rather, they must be built as “centers.” Yet even where the army grants permission to build a “center,” its future remains unsure. The Granite Factory in Yeik Htoo, 120 miles from Rangoon, is an exemplary story. There, Christian workers representing several different ethnic groups, including the Karen, Kachin, and Chin, received permission to build a center in June 1999.When the Center was all but complete, the Army ordered them to destroy the center. Similar incidents occurred in Haka, the capital of the Chin State, where the Baptist Churches in Haka constructed the Carson Memorial Hall in honor of the first missionary to Chinland one hundred years ago. Construction of the Hall was set to be complete before the date of the centennial, March15, 1999, and planned to display the works of the missionary and Chin cultural and historical records from the past 100 years. However, in early 1999,the Army ordered that construction of the churches is halted. As a result, the churches could not display our homage to the mission work during the centennial celebration. Unlike Christians and Muslims, Buddhists do not need permission from the Army to construct pagodas. Indeed, the regime’s Ministry of Religious Affairs has been providing funds for the construction of the International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University in Rangoon for the training of Buddhist clerics. This University opened in December 1998. In contrast, Christian and Muslim institutions were nationalized in 1964-65 and placed under control of the Army. There is no record of the Army ever having destroyed a Buddhist pagoda. On the contrary, the Army often forces Christians and Muslims to construct pagodas without pay. These examples are indicative of the fact that in Burma there is freedom to exercise religious beliefs if those beliefs are Buddhist, but not if they are Christian or Muslim.
2) Freedom to Preach
Pastors, Preachers and Evangelists must be extremely cautious in their preaching, particularly with respect to social and economic issues. In the Kaleymyo area of the Sagaing Division, the Military Intelligence maintains files on each pastor and has warned them, one by one, not to preach on economic injustice.
3) Freedom to Assemble
All conferences and Christian meetings are subject to authorization by the Burmese Army, a power that the Army exercises in an arbitrary and unjust manner. In 1999–the year of the Chin Christian centennial celebrations–the army rejected the churches’ appeals to celebrate in March, the centennial month. The Army granted permission to celebrate in April 1999, but ordered that no more than 4000 people would be allowed to participate. The Army also refused to allow former missionaries and Baptist leaders from the United States to participate in the centennial celebration.
4) Christian Literature
During February and May of 1999, the Army seized 16,000 copies of the Bible in Kachin, Chin, and Karen in Tamu town of Sagaing Division, which were printed outside the country. As of today, these Bibles remain in the Army’s hands. Christian publications must pass the inspection of the censorship authority. More importantly, contents of any proposed publications in ethnic languages must be translated to Burmese so that the Army can check the contents. For example, in 1998, the Chin Association of Christian Communication (CACC), based in Haka, went to the Censorship Office in Rangoon to publish as mall Chin literature book on the Haka dialect. One of the sentences in the book stated, “Jesus is Lord” (Zisuh cu Bawi a si). The Army forced the CACC to delete that sentence.
5) Employment Injustice Based on Religion
On December 20, 1999, I interviewed Major ….Lian….. (full name omitted for security reason)who fled to the ………………..in September 1999. Mr. Lian completed the course of officer military training and served the regime for 23 years. All of his classmates who were Burmese-Buddhist were promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Mr. Lian also should have been promoted to that rank in light of his excellent reputation and service of seniority. However, the promotion authority in Rangoon informed him that only if he abandoned Christianity and became a Buddhist would he receive the rank of Lt. Col. Mr. Lian refused the offer and fled to the United States. Mr.Lian told me that other Christians are similarly denied promotions based on their religious identification.
6) Racial Discrimination Based on Religion
On April 1, 1996, the military regime imposed a new law of inheritance on the non-Buddhist people. This law stated that all non-Buddhists must apply at military court for the inheritance of their fathers. This law is in direct violation of the customary law of the non-Buddhist people. Reconciliation Violations of human rights and religious freedom will continue in Burma unless there is democratic change. We need to change both the system and the rulers. To this end, we need a peaceful solution by way of true reconciliation. The battlefield is not the place to achieve reconciliation. Neither military might nor gun power, nor thirty-eight years of military rule, have resolved the civil wars in our land. The regime should learn this lesson, and come to the dialogue table, as the United Nations and international community have repeatedly urged. True reconciliation must be based on the will of the people. Burma needs the involvement of outsiders, and I believe our Baptists friends have a significant role to play. However, we must also learn our lessons. The cease-fire agreement signed by the regime with the involvement of church leaders inside the country only strengthened the Army politically because the church leaders remain under the army’s control. This kind of cease-fire agreement will not lead to national reconciliation. Cease-fire should be for the purpose of political dialogue under the intervention of international bodies such as the United Nations. I ask the Baptists not to provide any assistance directly or indirectly in the cease-fires arranged under the military regime’s control. Rather, I ask that you engage in pressuring the military regime to enter into a tripartite dialogue with the democratic forces, and the ethnic groups.
The 210th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Churches of the United States condemned the Burmese Army in the following words: “The illegal government of Burma is one of the world’s brutal and repressive military regime. Call the Presbyterian Church (USA) to pray for the people of Burma and to encourage world pressure of the genuine democratic government to be installed” (R. 98-20). Please remember that out of the Christian population in Burma, approximately 75% belong to the Baptist denomination. I request you, our Baptist brothers and sisters, to join with the voice of the Presbyterians, in calling for justice, peace, and change in Burma. We the people in Burma want freedom from persecution and freedom to exercise our beliefs.