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.

(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).

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
No: (97/B)
West Shwegonedine Road
Bahan Township
Rangoon , 7 August 2000

(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.

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.


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.

Background Information:

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.


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.

Religious Freedom

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 ……………… 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.

Action Alert

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


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
[email protected] e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Salutation: The Honorable U Win Aung


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,
Fax: 011 41 22 9170213
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Salutation: Dear Mr. Pinheiro

For more information on religious persecution in Chin State please visit

For information about religious freedom in Burma please visit

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.

2002 US Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report
on Burma
International Religious Freedom Report 2002
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Burma has been ruled since 1962 by highly repressive, authoritarian military regimes. Since 1988 when the armed forces brutally suppressed massive prodemocracy 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: “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 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 frequently abused the right to freedom of religion.

There was no change in the limited respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report. Through its pervasive internal security apparatus, the Government generally infiltrated or monitored the meetings and activities of virtually all organizations, including religious organizations. It systematically has restricted efforts by Buddhist clergy to promote human rights and political freedom, has discouraged or prohibited minority religions from constructing new places of worship, and, in some ethnic minority areas, has coercively promoted Buddhism over other religions, particularly among members of the minority ethnic groups. Christian groups have experienced increasing difficulties in obtaining permission to build new churches, while Muslims report that they essentially are banned from constructing any new mosques anywhere in the country. While the sharp increase in the level of anti-Muslim violence during the period covered by the previous report (some of which the Government may have tacitly supported, contributed to, or even instigated) has abated, there were reports that restrictions on Muslim travel and worship countrywide have increased, especially since the fall of 2001.

There are social tensions between the Buddhist majority and the Christian and Muslim minorities, largely due to colonial and contemporary government preferences. There is widespread prejudice against Muslims. A sharp increase in anti-Muslim violence in 2001 significantly heightened tensions between the Buddhist and Muslim communities, as it had done in the past.

Since 1988 a primary objective of U.S. Government policy towards the country has been to promote increased respect for human rights, including the right to freedom of religion. In September 2001, the Secretary of State designated Burma a country of particular concern under the International Religious Freedom Act for particularly severe violations of religious freedom. The Secretary of State had so designated Burma in 1999 and 2000.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of approximately 251,000 square miles and a population of approximately 50 million persons. The majority of the population are Theravada Buddhists, although in practice popular Burmese Buddhism includes veneration of many indigenous pre-Buddhist deities called “nats,” and coexists with astrology, numerology, and fortune-telling. Buddhist monks, including novices, number more than 300,000 persons, (roughly 2 percent of the male Buddhist population), and depend for their material needs entirely on alms donated by the laity, including daily donations of food. The clergy also includes a much smaller number of nuns. There are minorities of Christians (mostly Baptists as well as some Catholics and Anglicans), Muslims (mostly Sunni), Hindus, and practitioners of traditional Chinese and indigenous religions. According to government statistics, almost 90 percent of the population practice Buddhism, 4 percent practice Christianity, and 4 percent practice Islam; however, these statistics may understate the non-Buddhist proportion of the population. A very small Jewish community, estimated to be less than 50 persons, exists in Rangoon.

The country is ethnically diverse, and there is some correlation between ethnicity and religion. Theravada Buddhism is the dominant religion among the majority Burman ethnic group, and among the Shan and Mon ethnic minorities of the eastern and southern regions. In much of the country there also is some correlation between religion and social class. Non-Buddhists tend to be better educated, more urbanized, and more business oriented than the Buddhist majority.

Christianity is the dominant religion among the Kachin ethnic group of the northern region and the Chin and Naga ethnic groups of the western region (some of which practice traditional indigenous religions); it also is practiced widely among the Karen and Karenni ethnic groups of the southern and eastern regions. Many other Karen and Karenni are Theravada Buddhists. Hinduism is practiced chiefly by Indians, mostly Tamils and Bengalis, who are concentrated in major cities and in the south-central region (although many Tamils are Catholic). Islam is practiced widely in Rakhine State, where it is the dominant religion of the Rohingya minority, and among Indians and Bengalis and their descendants. The Chinese ethnic minorities practice traditional Chinese religions. Traditional indigenous religions are practiced widely among smaller ethnic groups in the northern regions and practices drawn from those indigenous religions persist widely in popular Buddhist rituals, especially in rural areas.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The country has been ruled since 1962 by highly authoritarian military regimes. The latest military regime, now called the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), has governed without a constitution or legislature since 1988. The most recent Constitution, promulgated in 1974, permitted both legislative and administrative restrictions on religious freedom: “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 religions that were registered with the authorities generally have enjoyed the right to worship as they choose; however, the Government has imposed restrictions on certain religious activities and frequently abused the right to religious freedom.

Since independence in 1948, many of the ethnic minority areas have been bases for armed resistance to the Government. Although the Government has negotiated ceasefire agreements with most armed ethnic groups since 1989, active Shan, Karen and Karenni insurgencies continue, and a Chin insurgency has developed since the late 1980’s. Successive civilian and military governments have tended to view religious freedom in the context of threats to national unity.

There is no official state religion; however, in practice the Government continued to show a preference for Theravada Buddhism. Successive governments, civilian and military, have supported and associated themselves conspicuously with Buddhism.

Virtually all organizations must be registered with the Government. A government directive exempts “genuine” religious organizations from registration; however, in practice only registered organizations can buy or sell property or open bank accounts, which coerces most religious organizations to register. Religious organizations register with the Ministry of Home Affairs with the endorsement of the Ministry for Religious Affairs. The State also provides some utility services, such as electricity, at preferential rates to recognized religious organizations.

Buddhist doctrine remained part of the state-mandated curriculum in all elementary schools. Individual children may opt out of instruction in Buddhism, and sometimes do; however, at times the Government also deals harshly with efforts to opt out. The Government also funded two state universities to train Buddhist clergy, and one university intended to teach non-Burmese about Burmese Theravada Buddhism.

Official public holidays include some Christian and Islamic holy days, as well as several Theravada Buddhist holy days.

The Government ostensibly promotes mutual understanding among practitioners of different religions. The Government maintains a multi-religion monument in downtown Rangoon. In 1998 the Government announced plans to build a new multi-religion Square on some of the land that it recovered in 1997 by relocating Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, and Muslim cemeteries in Rangoon’s Kyandaw neighborhood. During 2001, the Government objected to the inclusion of a cross in the design of a proposed Christian monument at the site, and, as a result, there was no progress on the project during the period covered by this report.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

The Government continued both to show preference for Theravada Buddhism, the majority religion, and to control the organization and restrict the activities and expression of its clergy (“sangha”), although the clergy have resisted such control. Beginning in late 1990, the Government banned any organization of Buddhist clergy other than the nine state-recognized monastic orders. These nine orders submit to the authority of a state-sponsored State Clergy Coordination Committee (“Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee”–SMNC), which is elected indirectly by monks. The Government also authorized military commanders to try Buddhist clergy before military tribunals for “activities inconsistent with and detrimental to Buddhism,” and imposed on Buddhist clergy a code of conduct. Infractions of the code are punished by criminal penalties. In 1999 the regional military commander in Mandalay reportedly issued an order that forbade Buddhist clergy to leave their township of residence without first surrendering their identity cards and obtaining written permission from local authorities. In November 2001 two nuns at Thayet were arrested and imprisoned for violating this order. Persons other than Buddhist clergy generally were not subject to such severe restrictions on movement.  

Since the early 1990’s, the Government increasingly has made special efforts to link itself with Buddhism as a means of boosting its own legitimacy. State-controlled news media continue frequently to depict or describe government members paying homage to Buddhist monks; making donations at pagodas throughout the country; officiating at ceremonies to open, improve, restore or maintain pagodas; and organizing ostensibly voluntary “people’s donations” of money, food, and uncompensated labor to build or refurbish Buddhist religious shrines throughout the country. State-owned newspapers routinely featured, as front page banner slogans, quotations from the Buddhist scriptures. The Government has published books of Buddhist religious instruction. The Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), a Government-sponsored mass organization in which participation often is not entirely voluntary, has organized courses in Buddhist culture attended by millions of persons, according to State-owned media reports.

The Government continued to fund two State Sangha Universities in Rangoon and Mandalay to train Buddhist clergy under the control of the SMNC. The State’s relations with the Buddhist clergy and Buddhist schools are handled chiefly by the Department for the Perpetuation and Propagation of the Sasana (DPPS–“Sasana” means Buddhist doctrine) in the Ministry of Religious Affairs. During the mid-1990’s, the Government funded the construction of the International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University (ITBMU) in Rangoon, which opened in December 1998. The ITBMU’s stated purpose is “to share Burma’s knowledge of Buddhism with the people of the world,” and the main language of instruction is English.

The Government, which operates a pervasive internal security apparatus, generally infiltrates or monitors the meetings and activities of virtually all organizations, including religious organizations. Religious activities and organizations of all faiths also are subject to broad government restrictions on freedom of expression and association. The Government also subjects all publications, including religious publications, to control and censorship. The Government generally prohibits outdoor meetings, including religious meetings, of more than five persons. This monitoring and control undermines the free exchange of thoughts and ideas associated with religious activities. The Government continued to monitor closely the activities of members of all religions, including Buddhism, in part because clergy and congregation members in the past have become active politically. In 1995 the military Government prohibited the ordination as clergy of any member of a political party. This measure remains in effect; however, it is not strictly enforced.

The Government continued to discriminate against members of minority religions, restricting the educational, proselytizing, and building activities of minority religious groups. There is a concentration of Christians among some of the ethnic minorities (such as, the Karen and the Kachin) against which the army has fought for decades, although groups that practice Buddhism (like, the Shan) also have waged many of the ethnic insurgencies.

Unlike in past years, there were no reports of clergy being beaten to discourage proselytizing. Local military commanders, who often issued such orders, rarely cited any legal justification for their actions. Government authorities continued to prohibit Christian clergy from proselytizing in some areas, often in support of local Buddhist populations opposed to the spread of Christianity. For example, in early April 2002 the Government suddenly rescinded the Kachin Baptist Convention’s permission to hold its 125th anniversary celebration in Kachin state. The celebration, which was expected to attract approximately 30,000 members, was rescheduled for November 2002. The Government initially also denied the Baptist Youth Assembly to hold a rally for 3,000 members in Taunggyi, Shan state in November 2001. In May 2002, the Government allowed the group to hold the rally but attendance was restricted to only 300 members.

In general the Government has not allowed permanent foreign religious missions to operate in the country since the mid-1960’s, when it expelled nearly all foreign missionaries and nationalized all private schools and hospitals, which were extensive and were affiliated mostly with Christian religious organizations. The Government is not known to have paid any compensation in connection with these extensive confiscations. However, the Government has allowed a few elderly Catholic priests and nuns who have worked in the country since before independence to continue their work. At times, religious groups, including Catholics and Protestants, bring in foreign clergy and religious workers as tourists but are careful to ensure that their activities are not perceived as proselytizing by the Government. Some Christian theological seminaries established before 1962 also have continued to operate; however, in 2000 military authorities forced a Bible school, which had been operating in Tamu township in Sagaing division since 1976, to close.

Christian groups have experienced increasing difficulties in obtaining permission to build new churches, while Muslims report that they essentially are banned from constructing any new mosques anywhere in the country. Buddhist groups are not known to have experienced similar difficulties in obtaining permission to build pagodas or monasteries. In parts of Chin state, authorities reportedly have not authorized the construction of any new churches since 1997. The Government reportedly also has denied permission for churches to be built on main roads in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin state. In Rangoon authorities have instructed various Christian groups to call their worship facilities “social centers” rather than “churches.” One source estimated that the Government approves construction of only approximately 10 to 15 new churches per year. In most regions of the country, Christian and Muslim groups that seek to build small churches or mosques on side streets or other inconspicuous locations do so with informal, rather than formal, approval from local authorities. However, obtaining an informal approval from local authorities creates a tenuous legal situation. When local authorities or conditions change, informal approvals for construction have been rescinded abruptly, construction halted and, in some cases, buildings have been torn down.

Since the 1960’s, Christian and Islamic groups have had difficulties importing religious literature into the country. All publications, religious and secular, remain subject to control and censorship. Translations of the Bible into indigenous languages can not be imported legally; however, Bibles can be printed locally in indigenous languages with government permission. During the period covered by this report, there were no reports of the confiscation of Bibles or other religious materials. In January 2002, the German based company Good Books for All was allowed to distribute 10,000 Bibles in the country. In 1999 however, approximately 20,000 illegally imported Bibles were seized in Tamu township in Sagaing division. During 2001, countering rumors that the Bibles were destroyed, authorities informed one religious group that the Bibles were in storage in Rangoon. At the end of the period covered by this report, the disposition of these Bibles remained unclear. Last year, one religious group reported that in 2001 it had received government permission to import 2,000 English-language Bibles, the first such import allowed in 20 years; the Bibles were not imported, however, and in May 2002 the Government reversed its earlier decision.

State censorship authorities continued to enforce restrictions on the local publication of the Bible, and Christian and Muslim publications in general. The most onerous restriction is a list of over 100 prohibited words that the censors would not allow in Christian or Islamic literature because they purportedly are indigenous language terms long used in Buddhist literature. Many of these words have been used and accepted by some of the country’s Christian and Muslim groups since the colonial period. Organizations that translate and publish non-Buddhist religious texts are appealing these restrictions. They reportedly have succeeded in reducing the number of prohibited words to approximately 12, but the issue still was pending at the end of the period covered by this report. In addition, according to other reports, the censors have objected to passages of the Old Testament and the Koran that may appear to approve the use of violence against nonbelievers. Although possession of publications not approved by the censors is an offense for which persons have been arrested and prosecuted in the past, there have been no reports of arrests or prosecutions for possession of any traditional religious literature in recent years.

The Government allowed members of all religious groups to establish and maintain links with coreligionists in other countries and to travel abroad for religious purposes, subject to restrictive passport and visa issuance practices, foreign exchange controls, and government monitoring that extends to all international activities for any purpose. The Government sometimes expedited its burdensome passport issuance procedures for Muslims making the Hajj.

Religious affiliation sometimes is indicated on government issued identification cards that citizens and permanent residents of the country are required to carry at all times. There appear to be no consistent criteria governing whether religion is indicated on an identification card. Citizens also are required to indicate their religions on some official application forms, such as, on passports (which have a separate “field” for religion, as well as ethnicity).

Non-Buddhists continued to experience employment discrimination at upper levels of the public sector. Only one non-Buddhist served in the Government at a ministerial level, and the same person, a brigadier general, is the only non-Buddhist known to have held flag rank in the armed forces during the 1990’s. The Government discourages Muslims from entering military service, and Christian or Muslim military officers who aspire to promotion beyond middle ranks are encouraged by their superiors to convert to Buddhism.

Members of the Muslim Rohingya minority in Rakhine state, on the country’s western coast, continued to experience severe legal, economic, and social discrimination. The Government denies citizenship status to most Rohingyas on the grounds that their ancestors allegedly did not reside in the country at the start of British colonial rule, as required by the country’s highly restrictive citizenship law. Muslim Rohingya minority returnees complained of severe government restrictions on their ability to travel and their ability to engage in economic activity. Unlike the practice for other foreign persons in the country, these Muslims are not issued a Foreign Registration Card (FRC). They are required to obtain permission from the township authorities whenever they wish to leave their village area. Authorities generally do not grant permission to travel to Rangoon to Rohingya Muslims, however, permission sometimes can be obtained through bribery. In addition because the Government reserves secondary education for citizens only, Rohingya do not have access to state run schools beyond primary education, and are unable to obtain most civil service positions. There are reports that restrictions on Muslim travel and worship, in particular, have increased countrywide during the period covered by this report.

Abuses of Religious Freedom

Government restrictions on speech, press, assembly, and movement, including diplomatic travel, make it difficult to obtain timely and accurate information on human rights in Burma, including freedom of religion. Information about abuses often becomes available only months or years after the events, from refugees who have fled to other countries, from released political prisoners, or from occasional travel inside the country by foreign journalists and scholars.

There continued to be reports that military officers killed villagers who refused to provide portering services to the Army. For example, in December 2000, junta military officers allegedly shot and killed the local imam of a mosque in Karen state for asking the authorities to spare him from portering, as it was the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan. The military on occasion has killed religious figures as well. On May 30, 2002 troops killed 10 ethnic Karen, including a pastor one day after being ambushed by fighters from the Karen Resistance group.

Government security forces continued to take actions against minority Christian groups, arresting clergy, destroying churches, and prohibiting religious services. In Rangoon during 2001, authorities closed more than 80 home-churches (a traditional gathering place for many Christians) because they did not have proper authorization to hold religious meetings. At the same time, the authorities have made it increasingly difficult to obtain approval for the construction of “authorized” churches. In Chin state in the western part of the country in particular, the Government attempted to coerce members of the Chin ethnic minority to convert to Buddhism and prevented Christian Chin from proselytizing by, among other things, arresting and physically abusing Christian clergy and destroying churches. Until 1990 the Chin generally practiced either Christianity or traditional indigenous religions with little interference from the Government. Since 1990 the Government has supported forced conversions of Christians to Buddhism. The majority of Chins, however, are still Christian. (The Chin were the only major ethnic minority in the country that did not support any significant armed organization in active rebellion against the Government or in an armed ceasefire with the Government. However, Chin opposition groups emerged in 1988 and subsequently developed active insurgencies against the Government).

Authorities have attempted to prevent Chin Christians from practicing their religion. Military units repeatedly located their camps on the sites of Christian churches and graveyards, which were destroyed to build these camps; local Chin Christians were forced to assist in these acts of desecration. In addition, the Army reportedly tends to use churches, desecrating them for their bases when in remote areas. 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. During the period covered by this report, there were reports that, while the Government still bans most of these crosses, permission has been granted to erect at least one cross in Southern Chin state. It also was reported that in July 2000, Captain Khin Maung Myint forcibly ordered the closure of all Christian schools in Tamu township.

The authorities reportedly subjected Christian sermons to censorship and repeatedly prohibited Christian clergy from proselytizing. On April 4, 2002, two Chin pastors, Reverend That Ci, his son-inlaw Reverend Lian Za Dal, and their families reportedly were arrested in a suburb of Rangoon for having unregistered overnight guests in their home. However, Reverend That Ci had filed the necessary paperwork and had not received a reply. The arrests reportedly were an effort to force them to stop proselytizing so boldly in the Dagon North area. When they refused, they were sent from Dagon North police station to Insein prison. The status of their eight family members is unknown. In the past, soldiers beat Christian clergy who refused to sign statements promising to stop preaching to nonChristians. Since 1990 government authorities and security forces, with assistance from monks of the Hill Regions Buddhist Missions, have sought coercively to prevent Christian Chins from proselytizing to Chins who practice indigenous religions.

Since 1990 government authorities and security forces have promoted Buddhism over Christianity among the Chin ethnic minority in diverse and often coercive ways. This campaign, reportedly accompanied by other efforts to “Burmanize” the Chin, has involved a large increase in military units stationed in Chin state and other predominately Chin areas, state-sponsored immigration of Buddhist Burman monks from other regions, and construction of Buddhist monasteries and shrines in Chin communities with few or no Buddhists, often by means of forced “donations” of money or labor. Local government officials promised monthly support payments to individuals and households who converted to Buddhism. Government soldiers stationed in Chin state reportedly were given higher rank and pay if they coerced Chin women to marry them and convert to Buddhism. The authorities reportedly supplied rice to Buddhists at lower prices than to Christians, distributed extra supplies of foodstuffs to Buddhists on Sunday mornings while Christians attended church, and exempted converts to Buddhism from forced labor. In the past, it credibly was reported that in Karen state’s Pa’an township army units repeatedly conscripted as porters young men leaving Sunday worship services at some Christian churches, causing young men to avoid church attendance. Soldiers led by officers repeatedly disrupted Christian worship services and celebrations. Chin Christians were forced to “donate” labor to clean and maintain Buddhist shrines. There also were a number of credible reports that the Army continued to force Chin to porter for it, both in Chin state and Sagaing division. More specifically it was reported that the Army no longer takes rations with it, and rather lives off local villagers to feed army personnel, by force if help is refused, although villagers reportedly were allowed to buy their way out of such work. Local government officials ordered Christian Chin to attend sermons by newly arrived Buddhist monks who disparaged Christianity. Many Christian Chin are pressured and some are forced to attend schools for monks and Buddhist monasteries and then are encouraged to convert to Buddhism. Local government officials separated the children of Chin Christians from their parents under false pretenses of giving them free secular education and allowing them to practice their own religion, while in fact the children were lodged in Buddhist monasteries where they were instructed in and converted to Buddhism without their parents’ knowledge or consent. Finally, since 1990, government authorities and security forces, with assistance from monks of the Hill Regions Buddhist Missions, coercively have sought to coerce Chins, including children, to convert to Theravada Buddhism.

In 2001, according to the Chin Human Rights Organization, Lt. Colonel Biak To was fired from his military position and fined; allegedly his army and police superiors discriminated against him because of his religious (Christian) and ethnic (Chin) identity.

There were unconfirmed reports of governmental restrictions on the religious freedom of Christians among the Naga ethnic minority in the far northwest of the country. These reports suggested that the Government sought to coerce members of the Naga to convert to Buddhism by means similar to those used to convert members of the Chin to Buddhism. However, reports concerning the Naga, although credible, are less numerous than reports concerning the Chin. Consequently, knowledge of the status of religious freedom among the Naga is less certain. During 1999 the first mass exodus of Naga religious refugees from the country occurred; more than 1,000 Christians of the Naga ethnic group reportedly fled the country to India. These Naga reportedly claimed that the army and Buddhist monks tried to force them to convert to Buddhism, had forced them to close churches in their villages, and then desecrated the churches. A particularly harsh military commander in the Naga area reportedly was removed from command in late 2000 and imprisoned for rape.

There are credible reports that SPDC authorities have systematically repressed and relocated Muslims to isolate them in certain areas. For example, Rakhine Muslims have been forced to donate time, money, and materials toward buildings for the Buddhist community. There now are certain townships in the Rakhine state, such as Thandwe, Gwa, and Taung-gut, which are “Muslim-free zones.” Muslims no longer are permitted to live in the areas, mosques have been destroyed and lands confiscated. To ensure that the mosques are not rebuilt, they have been replaced with government-owned buildings, monasteries, and Buddhist temples. Authorities also have issued a court order in Rakhine stating that the killing of a Muslim is punishable by a minimal 3-month sentence while the sentence for a Muslim hitting a Buddhist is 3 years. Last year in northern Rakhine state, the Government systematically destroyed mosques in some small villages. In one area, local authorities already had destroyed at least 10 of 40 mosques that had been designated for destruction before higher authorities intervened at the request of international agencies. The mosques, which typically are little more than thatch huts, reportedly were constructed without proper authority by villagers who had difficulty getting to mosques in neighboring towns due to strict travel restrictions on Muslims.

In 2001 there was a sharp increase in anti-Muslim violence in the country. In February 2001, riots broke out in the town of Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine state. There were various, often conflicting, accounts of how the riots began, but reports consistently stated that government security and firefighting forces did little to prevent attacks on Muslim mosques, businesses, and residences. There also were credible reports that at least some of the monks that led attacks on Muslims were military or USDA instigators dressed as monks. After 4 days of rioting, security forces moved in and prevented any additional violence. An estimated 50 Muslim homes were burned and both Muslims and Buddhists were killed and injured. Since that time, the Government has tightened already strict travel restrictions for Muslims in the area, essentially preventing any Muslims from travelling between Sittwe and other towns in the region. In late March or early April 2001, seven Arakanese politicians were sentenced to 7- to 12-year prison terms for inciting the riots.

In May 2001, anti-Muslim riots broke out in the town of Taungoo in the Bago Division between Rangoon and Mandalay (an estimated 2,000 of 90,000 Taungoo inhabitants are Muslim). The riots followed the same pattern as those in Sittwe: there were varying accounts of what precipitated the fighting, security and firefighting forces did not intervene, and Muslim mosques, businesses, and residences were targeted. Again there were credible reports that the monks that appeared to be inciting at least some of the violence were Union Solidarity and Development of Agriculture or military personnel dressed as monks. After 2 days of violence the military stepped in and the violence immediately ended, but not before there was widespread destruction of Muslim homes and businesses and, reportedly, of several mosques. An estimated 10 Muslims and 2 Buddhists were killed in this incident. No further information about this incident was available at the end of the period covered by this report.

While there is no direct evidence linking the Government to these violent acts against Muslims, there are reports that the instigators were military or Union Solidarity and Development Association personnel. There also are reports that local government authorities alerted Muslim elders in advance of the attacks and warned them not to retaliate to avoid escalating the violence. While the specifics of how these attacks began and who carried them out may never be documented fully, it appears that the Government was, at best, very slow to protect Muslims and their property from destruction. The violence significantly heightened tensions between the Buddhist and Muslim communities.

While anti-Muslim violence abated during the period covered by this report, restrictions on Muslims countrywide reportedly have increased, especially since the fall of 2001. Muslims reportedly have not been allowed to build any new mosques in the country, or to replace those destroyed in the rioting last year. Authorities also have refused to approve requests for gatherings to celebrate traditional Muslim holidays, and have restricted the number of Muslims that can gather in one place. Restrictions on Muslim travel reportedly have increased throughout the country.

In 1991 tens of thousands (according to some reports as many as 300,000 persons) of members of the Muslim Rohingya minority fled from Rakhine state into Bangladesh following anti-Muslim violence alleged, although not proven, to have involved government troops. Many of the 21,000 Rohingya Muslims remaining in refugee camps in Bangladesh have refused to return because they feared human rights abuses, including religious persecution. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that authorities cooperated in investigating isolated incidents of renewed abuse of repatriated citizens.

In September 2000, according to the Muslim Information Center of Burma (MICB), a local nongovernmental organization (NGO), four Muslim elders of Daing Win Gwan Block village, Moulmein township in Mon state, filed an application with the authorities to allow the Muslim students to stop learning Buddhism in school; the authorities arrested the four elders for their actions. No further information was available about this incident during the period covered by this report.

The Government continued to prevent Buddhist monks from calling for democracy and political dialog with prodemocracy forces. During the period covered by this report, government efforts to control these monks have included travel restrictions, arrests, pressure on Buddhist leaders to expel “undisciplined monks,” and a prohibition on certain monasteries from receiving political party members as overnight guests. More than 100 monks credibly have been identified as having been imprisoned during the 1990’s for supporting democracy and human rights; however, about half of these have been released, and there was no reliable estimate of the number of Buddhist clergy in prisons or labor camps at the end of the period covered by this report. Following a February 2000 letter from the Young Buddhist Monk Union advocating political actions, government authorities reportedly arrested approximately 40 monks in May or June 2001. By the end of the period covered by this report, the status of those arrested remained unknown. Monks serving sentences of life in prison reportedly included the venerable U Kalyana of Mandalay, a member of the Aung San Red Star Association, and the venerable U Kawiya of the Phayahyi monastery in Mandalay.

In July 2000, U Tay Zawata, a monk in Shan state, filed a complaint with the SPDC Secretary One Lt. General and the Attorney General stating that in August 1999, government authorities in the town of Tachileik had destroyed two monasteries and dispersed over 50 monks without a proper court order and without compensation. On August 1, 2001, at a religious ceremony in Mandalay, a Buddhist monk reportedly was arrested for delivering a sermon critical of the prevailing economic and political situation. There was no information available on whether he was later released or if he remains in prison.

There continued to be credible reports from diverse regions of the country that government officials compelled persons, especially in rural areas, to contribute money, food, or uncompensated labor to state-sponsored projects to build, renovate, or maintain Buddhist religious shrines or monuments. The Government calls these contributions “voluntary donations” and imposes them on both Buddhists and non-Buddhists. In recent years, there had been credible reports that Muslims in Rakhine state have been compelled to build Buddhist pagodas as part of the country’s forced labor program. These pagodas often have been built on confiscated Muslim land. However, there were no known reports of such activity during the period covered by this report. There also were reports of forced labor being used to dismantle temples and monasteries. In July 2000, army troops from the 246th Infantry Division reportedly forced 54 men to dismantle several temples and monasteries in the forced relocation areas of Kun-Hing township; in August 2000, the same troops again conscripted 87 workers from the same town and forced them to build a shelter for the lumber and tin sheets taken from the dismantled monasteries.

On June 14, 2002, Aung San Suu Kyi, (leader of the National League for Democracy), traveled to Karen state to visit Thamanya Sayadaw, a famous monk, without incident. Suu Kyi had been released from house arrest in May 2002. Thamanya Sayadaw is revered by the wife of General Than Shwe, the Head of State and Chairman of the SPDC.

Forced Religious Conversion

Since 1990 government authorities and security forces, with assistance from monks of the Hill Regions Buddhist Missions, have sought to coerce Chins, including children, to convert to Theravada Buddhism.

According to the Islamic Republic News Agency, there are credible reports that hundreds of Christian tribal Nagas in the country have been converted forcibly to Buddhism by the country’s military. The persons were lured with promises of government jobs to convert to Buddhism, while those who resisted were abused and kept as bonded labor by the military.

There were no reports of forced religious conversion of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United states, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

There are social tensions between the Buddhist majority and the Christian and Muslim minorities, largely due to preferential treatment by the Government, both in hiring and other areas, in practice (although not in law) both for non-Buddhists during British colonial rule and for Buddhists since independence. There is widespread prejudice against Muslims, many of whom are ethnic Indians or Bengalis. The Government reportedly contributed to or instigated anti-Muslim violence in Rakhine state in 1991, in Shan state and Rangoon in 1996, in cities throughout the country in 1997, and again during the period covered by this report (see Section II).

A book entitled “In Fear of Our Race Disappearing,” which first appeared in print in 1997 or 1998 by an unknown author, has contributed to anti-Muslim sentiments among Burmese Buddhists. The book describes how Muslims will displace Buddhists in the country unless actions are taken against them. Distribution of the book appears to have increased during the period covered by this report, although it is not clear who has been publishing it. The book was cited as one factor that contributed to the rioting in early 2001 in Sittwe and Taungoo (see Section II).

Since 1994 when the progovernment Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) was organized, there has been armed conflict between the DKBA and the Karen National Union (KNU). Although the DKBA reportedly includes some Christians, and there are many Buddhists in the KNU, the armed conflict between the two Karen groups has had strong religious overtones. During the mid-1990’s, it reportedly was common DKBA practice to torture Christian villagers and kill them if they refused to convert to Buddhism; however, DKBA treatment of Christians reportedly improved substantially after the DKBA began to administer the regions that it had conquered.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

Since 1988 a primary objective of U.S. Government policy toward the country has been to promote increased respect for human rights, including the right to freedom of religion. The United States has discontinued bilateral aid to the Government, suspended issuance of licenses to export arms to the country, and suspended the generalized system of preferences and export import bank financial services in support of U.S. exports to the country. The U.S. Government also has suspended all Overseas Private Investment Corporation financial services in support of U.S. investment in the country, ended active promotion of trade with the country, and halted issuance of visas to high government officials and their immediate family members. It also has opposed all assistance to the Government by international financial institutions, and urged the governments of other countries to take similar actions.

In November 2000, the U.S. Government actively supported the decision of the International Labor Organization to implement sanctions against the regime based on the Government’s continued systematic use of forced labor for a wide range of civilian and military purposes.

The U.S. Embassy has promoted religious freedom in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights. This has involved numerous contacts with government officials, private citizens, scholars, representatives of other governments, international media representatives, and international business representatives. Embassy staff have met repeatedly with leaders of Buddhist, Christian, and Islamic religious groups, members of the faculties of schools of theology, and other religious-affiliated organizations and NGO’s as part of their reporting and public diplomacy activities.

In September 2001, the Secretary of State designated Burma as a “country of particular concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act for particularly severe violations of religious freedom. The Secretary of State also had designated Burma a country of particular concern in 1999 and 2000.
Released on October 7, 2002

To protect and promote human rights and democratic principles