Chin Human Rights Organization
Date: July 12, 2002
Denial of Religious Freedom; Christian cross at risk of destruction in Chin State, western Burma
Facts of the Case:
In March 2002, after a visit to Matupi town by Major-General Ye Myint, Chief of Bureau of Special Operation, and one of the highest-ranking member of Burma’s ruling State Peace and Development Council SPDC, Chin Christians in Matupi of central Chin state were pressured to destroy a symbolic Christian cross, which has been standing near the town since 1984.
Local Christians have said that the authorities have attempted to destroy the cross since 1997 but a renewed pressure came after recent visit of high-ranking junta’s official. According to the locals, a section of Burmese soldiers under direction from higher authorities attempted to destroy the cross in 1997 but the attempt failed when one Burmese soldier was shot and killed by a fellow member in a fight resulting from drunkenness. Destruction was delayed.
Originally erected as a wooden cross, the cross was replaced as 30-foot tall concrete structure in 2001 by Christians. The refurbished structure was officially inaugurated in 2002. Local Christians say the Burmese soldiers later attempted to pull down the cross again but the 5-foot deep solid foundation of the cross had prevented them from dismantling it when they tried to dig it out.
The cross stands on hilltop one mile south of Matupi where it can be easily seen from most parts of the town. The Burmese army had established an army camp by the site and local people have said that the removal of the cross would give the army a better location for building an army camp.
According to a local Christian leader, the authorities gathered all Christian leaders and ministers at the township SPDC office early this year and were pressured through the day to destroy the cross. The Christian leaders refused by insisting on the authorities to destroy it themselves. “It was then that the authorities decided to apply another pressure tactic”, he said, “because they knew that Matupi Baptist Association MBA was planning to ship water pipes from Mandalay for its water supply improvement project and so the authorities wanted to use it as a bargaining tool”.
The Matupi Baptist Association is the largest religious institution in the area. The association has initiated a development project to improve the town’s water supply system with the assistance from Japanese Embassy in Rangoon. They have purchased water pipes for the project in Mandalay in central Burma. The SPDC authorities had now warned that the shipment of water pipes would not be authorized until the Association had pulled down the cross. Authorities also refused to connect telephone lines for 200 households who have made applications and have already paid required fees, for the same reason.
According to United States State Department, since the early 1990’s, [Burmese] security forces have torn down or forced villagers to tear down crosses that had been erected outside Chin Christian villages. These crosses often have been replaced with pagodas, sometimes built with forced labor. The State Department, since 1999 had designated Burma country of particular concern violating religious freedom.
Relevant Human Rights Standards
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Article 18: Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion
Please send faxes, letters, or emails:
Expressing your serious concern about Burmese authorities’ continued effort to destroy one of the last remaining Christian crosses in Chin State
Expressing your concern about persecution of Chin Christians in Burma
Urging the government to respect the human rights of all citizens including the right to freedom of religion
APPEAL AND INQUIRY MESSAGES SHOULD BE SENT TO:
Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt
State Peace and Development Council
Ministry of Defence
Signal Pagoda Rd
Fax: 011 (951) 22950
Salutation: Dear General
U Win Aung
Minister for Foreign Affairs
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Salutation: The Honorable U Win Aung
COPIES SENT TO:
Paulo Sérgio PinheiroSpecial Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar
Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Palais des Nations, 8-14 Avenue de la Paix,
CH 1211 Geneve, SWITZERLAND
Fax: 011 41 22 9170213
Salutation: Dear Mr. Pinheiro
For more information on religious persecution in Chin State please visit
For information about religious freedom in Burma please visit http://www.state.gov/www/global/human_rights/irf/irf_rpt/irf_burma.html
Compiled Religious Persecution Reports by CHRO
Religious Persecution Reports in 2002
Persecution of Christians Renewed, Junta Coerces Chin Christians to Pull Down Cross
Chin Human Rights Organization
June 29, 2002
Christian residents of Matupi, a major town in southern Chinland, are facing mounting pressure from Burma’s ruling regime, State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) to pull down a symbolic Christian cross they erected 1 mile South of the town.
The pressure came following a visit to the town in March 2002 by Chief of Bureau of Special Operation Major-General Ye Myint who, offended by the visible sight of the 30-foot tall cross, instructed local authorities in Matupi and nearby town of Mindat to pressurize local Christian leaders to dismantle the cross, according to reliable information obtained by Chin Human Rights Organization.
The spectacular 30 foot tall cross was erected by Chin Christian in 1984 and renovated in 2001. Residents of Matupi town had spent about 3 million Kyats to construct the cross.
In a bid to have the cross removed, SPDC closed down the operation of development and humanitarian projects being conducted by Matupi Baptist Association MBA, saying “unless the Association dismantled the cross the authorities would not authorize further operation of the projects.”
The projects include improvement of the town’s water supply system to make available sufficient water supply for residents. The MBA obtained assistance from Japanese Embassy in Rangoon and the project was started in 2001. The MBA bought water pipes from Mandalay. However, the SPDC authority in Mindat town had warned that they would not give permission for the shipment of the water pipes if the MBA continues to refuse to pull down the cross.
In a related incident, local SPDC authority in Mapupi has turned down the application made by 200 households to connect telephone lines to their homes. The authorities said that permission is conditioned by the dismantling of the cross, although every household had already paid to the authorities 85000 Kyats for the telephone connection fees.
To the local Chin community Christian cross represents a symbolic monument of their Christian identity and crosses are erected on higher locations such as hilltops where they can be easily seen by commuters. Available estimates show that over 90 per cent of the Chin populations are Christians.
Since the early 1990’s, security forces have torn down or forced villagers to tear down crosses that had been erected outside Chin Christian villages. These crosses often have been replaced with pagodas, sometimes built with forced labor. Some of these crosses had been erected in remembrance of former missionaries from the United States, while others merely are symbols of faith, according to the United States State Department.
Burma’s Junta Arrested Two Prominent Chin Christian Ministers
CHRO April 10, 2002
In a renewed effort to curb Christian activity, Burmese military junta arrested two highly respected Christian ministers on Friday April 5, 2002, a very reliable source in Rangoon told Chin Human Rights Organization yesterday.
Rev. Htat Gyi/That Ci and his son-in-law Pastor Lian Za Dal alias Saya Tun Lin were arrested on Friday night in a midnight raid conducted by local officials in their residence at 49th Dagon North in the outskirts of Rangoon city. Local officials also took eight other extended family members into custody, the source said.
Rev. That Ci was arrested shortly after he returned home from the Block Peace and Development Council office to file guest registration for his daughter and son-in-law who were visiting him in his Dagon North residence. According to the source, the local authority turned down the Reverend’s petition for guest registration saying the Township authority would first review his request after which they would inform him of the result. “He returned home believing that he would be informed of whether he was allowed to have visitors over or not”, said the source.
But at around midnight, the local authority raided the residence of Rev. That Ci and arrested all family members in the house on account of failing to file guest registration.
The source noted that although the cause of the arrest is being given as “failure to file guest report”, in the interrogation center Rev. That Ci was asked if he would stop holding worship service.
A member of ethnic Chin, Rev. That Ci had worked as a middle school headmaster and had also worked extensively with the United Nations Development Program UNDP before joining Myanmar Evangelical Gospel School of Theology where he later earned a Masters in Divinity.
That Ci has been reputed for his evangelical works among Burman Buddhists in Dagon North area and as a result the Township and District authorities had warned him several times to stop proselytizing. “Having drawn many Buddists into his church, the authorities had also warned him not to construct a church building in the local area. However, Rev. That Ci always defiantly ignored the warnings saying he did nothing detrimental to the stability of the state”, added the source.
Independent verification of the report by CHRO confirmed that Rev. That Ci and Pastor Lian Za Dal, who is also known among the Burmese as Saya Tun Lin were detained at Dagon North police station for one night, the next two night at a location on Barr street before they were sent to Insein Prison on Monday, April 8, 2002. The whereabouts of the other family member detainees could not be verified. However, the source further suggests that the two ministers could have been released during their initial detention on the condition that they stop preaching, but it was likely that they refused the offer in exchange for their release given the fact that they have now been sent to Insein Prision.
Ethnic and religious minorities have been the targets of persecution in Burma under the military junta, State Peace and Development Council, largely dominated Burman Buddhists. Christians make up only a small percent among the predominantly Buddhist populations in Burma.
The United States State Department’s Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, two years in a row had designated Burma as Country of Particular Concern, violating religious freedom. The reports specifically cited persecutions suffered by ethnic Chin Christians in Chin State in the western borderland of Burma.
Minority Chin Christian Continue To Face Religious Discrimination in Burma[CHRO Note: Burma is ruled by highly repressive, authoritarian military regimes. Since 1988 when the armed forces brutally suppressed massive pro-democracy demonstrations, a junta composed of senior military officers has ruled by decree, without a constitution or legislature. The most recent Constitution, promulgated in 1974, permitted both legislative and administrative restrictions on religious freedom, stating that “the national races shall enjoy the freedom to profess their religion, provided that the enjoyment of any such freedom does not offend the laws or the public interest.” Most adherents of all religions that are registered with the authorities generally are allowed to worship as they choose; however, the Government has imposed restrictions on certain religious activities and freq! uently abused the right to freedom of religion.
The following incidents are evidences of restriction imposed on religious minorities by the Burmese military junta.]
In 1993, Christians belonging to Assembly of God (AG) in Kalaymyo, Sagaing Division started the construction of a big church in Taung-phi-la block of Kalaymyo. The township authority ordered the minister and church elders to stop the construction without any reason given, which was still under way in 1997. The construction of the church was halted.
Even though, we made repeated appeals to the ministry of religion to continue construction of our church, we have not received any response from the authority,¡̈ said Mr. Pa Tling (name changed for security reason), 54 years old Chin, who is one of the church elders.
Since we do not get any response from the authority, we approached district level authority to get permission to finish construction of our church,¡̈ he said.
In order to obtain permission, the AG church had to offer bribes to all level of authorities with varying amount of money. 50000 Kyats ( Kyat is Burmese currency ) to the chairman of Kalaymyo District Peace and Development Council, 50000 kyats to the chairman of Kalaymyo township Peace and Development Council, 30000 Kyats to the head of department of municipal, 5000 Kyats to Taung-phi-la block Peace and Development Council respectively.
Only after they paid the bribe, did they get oral permission to continue construction of the church. However, they were told to cover the building of the church with mats and other materials so that commuters from the street would not see the church building.
(Note: CHRO obtains a picture of the church building being covered)
Similar restrictions were suffered by Christians in Kankaw, Magwe division, which is not very far from Kalaymyo.
In Mintha village of Kankaw towship, Magwe division, a big Buddhist seminary was constructed with the support of the SPDC authority while Christians were prohibited to construct church in the nearby town. Though there are only seven students in the monastery seminary, they have build 9 buildings in the compound. In addition to not being subjected to restriction, the monastery was built with the State support.
Another tales of religious discrimination against Christians was reported in Thaungman village of Salin township of Sagaing Division. Christians in Thaungman village have constructed a church in their village in 1997.
In September 9, 2001, the village authority issued order decreeing that Christians in the village must stop conducting worship service in the church. Since then, Christians in Thaungman village had to stop conducting worship service in the church fearing the village authority. Although they have written to the Ministry of Religion to get permission to worship at their church, they have not gotten any response from the church.o
Mr. Lalliana, 52 years old Methodist missionary from Tahan, Sagaing division on September 29, 2001, reported the incident of Thaungman village to CHRO field monitor.