The United States Commission On International Religious Freedom
After The Saffron Revolution, Repression, And The U.S. Policy Option
Statement By Salai Bawi Lian
Chin Human Rights Organization
Washington DC-December 3, 2007
Thank you. Thank you very much Mr. Chairman and the honorable commission.
A few months ago, the world witnessed how the Burmese military regime, State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) ruthlessly persecuted Buddhist monks in the street of Rangoon. The whole world was shocked.
In fact, the SPDC have been systematically persecuting religious minority groups such as Chin Christians for decades. I am honored to be invited to this important hearing to tell how the military junta in Burma has systematically persecuted Chin Christians who inhabit Burma’s western territory of Chin State or Chinland.
My name is Salai Bawi Lian from Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO). I am an ethnic Chin from Burma.
When I and my colleagues founded Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO), our intention was to document all incidents of human rights abuses against Chin people without focusing on a single issue. However, as time went on, it was quickly obvious that the issue of religious persecution was a matter of great concern to us. At least one piece of information in the reports that we gathered for our bimonthly newsletter, Rhododendron News, has had to do religious persecution against Chin Christians. The CHRO eventually published a book “Religious Persecution: A Campaign of Ethnocide Against Chin Christian in Burma” in 2005 that can be downloaded from CHRO website at www.chro.org
When I look back the record of CHRO documentation for the past 12 years, its begin with the news about 5 Chin Christian children lured and forced to become young Buddhist monks and nuns in 1995 and the last information report we received as recently as last month November 2007 that Chin Christian students in one particular town of Chin state are regularly forced to observe Buddhist merit making in the middle of the week that the entire school have to be closed on official school day. Then the entire school has to make up their missing day on Saturday.
The SPDC and successive Burmese military regime have been systematically persecuting Chin Christians for decades that the SPDC;
- Prohibit construction of Churches, Destroyed Crosses and Replaced With Pagodas or Statue of Buddhist Monk
- After 1990s the Chins never get permit to construct Churches
- Destroyed most Crossed planted in towns and replaced with Buddhist pagodas or Buddhist monk statue
- The order to destroy cross usually come from the highest military rank in the region
- The largest Cross remaining, 50 foot tall, in Chin State was destroyed in 2005 with direct order from the highest military commander in Chin State.
Censor Christian Literature and Publication
- Since 1962 the Chin Christians never get permission to print the Holy Bible in their own language in Burma
- In the year 2000 the CHRO received a report that 16,000 Bibles was confiscated by the SPDC in the India-Burma border town of Tamu.
- The Chins are prohibited to learn their own language in their own homeland.
- Christian pastors and ministers are highly respected among the Chin people
- They are highly respected as intermediaries between God and the congregations.
- The dignitary position of pastors and ministers made jealousy of the military regime that they are the first targets in the regime’s campaign against Chin Christians
- Rev. Zaangkholet and three of the village elders were brutally killed. Rev. Luai Thang was humiliated and brutally killed. Several other pastors and minister have been humiliated and arrested.
Restrict on Freedom of Assembly and Worship
- All Christians gathering and conference including religious festival require prior authorization by the Military regime.
- The regime usually impose many restrictions.
- In some occasion the sermon had to be approved by the authority.
Discriminate Based on Ethnicity and Religion
- Christians with non-Burman ethnic background can not be promoted in high ranking government official.
- In the Army Chin Christian can not be promoted beyond Major rank unless they converted to Buddhism.
- There are 3 categories (A, B, and C) designated for those who can not be promoted in the rank. A stands for AIDS symptom, B stands for Hepatitis B and C stands for Christians.
Selective Forced Labor
- Forced labor is a widespread practice in Burma.
- However, forced labor is specifically directed against Chin Christians in order to coerce them into converting to Buddhism.
- Those who converts to Buddhism are exempted from forced labor while Christians are forced to work on Sundays.
State Sponsor Expansion of Buddhism
- Since early 1990s the Burmese military regime created Hill Region Buddhist Mission and send many Buddhist monks to Chin state.
- Chin Christians are forced to contribute labor, money for construction of Buddhist monasteries and Pagodas, and forced to listen the Buddhist monk sermons.
- Many Chin Christians children have been lured to provide education in a bigger town. However Children are later found to be in Buddhist monasteries with their head shaven to become novice Buddhist monks.
A People and Culture at Stake
- Due to militarization and human rights violations committed by the Burmese military regime against Chin Christians, many can not longer survive.
- There are 60 thousands Chin refugees living in India.
- There are between 25 thousands Chin refugees living in Malaysia
- The Chin people are facing untold poverty and humanitarian crisis
- Needed national reconciliation through dialogue
- Needed to implement Broad Based Constitutional Review Commission proposed by UN Needed to implement Broad Based Poverty Alleviation Commission
Thank you very much.
Salai Bawi Lian Mang
Chin Human Rights Organization
Human Rights Situation in Chinland
Salai Bawi Lian Mang
Chin Human Rights Organization
Joint Venue Hosted
Lawyers Group of Amnesty International (Hong Kong)
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (Hong Kong)
November 7, 2005 Hong Kong
I would like to say thank you to the CWS (Hong Kong) and the Lawyers Group of Amnesty International (Hong Kong) for creating this venue, exclusively for the situation of human rights in Chinland (Chin state and western Burma). I am honored to speak about human rights situation in Chinland to a group of intellectuals, lawyers, the AI (Hong Kong) and CSW (Hong Kong) who have committed in promotion of human rights around the world.
Thanks to Ms. Chato Olivas Gallo for your nice introduction. My name is Salai Bawi Lian Mang from Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO). The CHRO is an independent non-governmental human rights organization. We aim to protect and promote human rights among the Chin people, and to contribute to the movement for the restoration of democracy and human rights in Burma. Founded in 1995, CHRO has worked to document the human rights situations of the Chin people in Burma’s western region.
Even though the political and human rights situation in Burma has gained international attention in recent years, the situation of the Chin people remained largely unknown by international community.
I am regrets to say that human rights conditions among Burma’s ethnic people, including the Chin people continue to remain a matter of grave concern. In fact, human rights conditions of the Chin people have become worse and the number of displaced persons and refugees has increased in recent years. Under the reign of the State Peace and Development Council, the Chin people have continued to experience untold miseries and hardships as a result of the systematic abuse of their fundamental human rights.
There is a direct link between the growing abuse against the Chin people and the increase in militarization of the Chin areas. In the last fifteen years since the regime took over power, the number of army battalions stationed in Chin State has increased up to 10 times. This increase has been accompanied by the rapid acceleration in the level of human rights abuses across Chin State. The kind of human rights violations suffered by the Chins today are the same as those that have been extensively reported among ethnic Karen, Shan, and Karenni on the eastern border. These violations manifest in the forms of arbitrary arrest and detention, forced labor, torture, rape and extrajudicial executions. Moreover, the overwhelming percentage of Christians among the Chin people has also brought abuses in the form of religious persecution. Today, religious persecution is a matter of primary concern among the Chin people.
Since 1999, the US State Department has singled out Burma as a country that systematically violates religious freedom. The annual reports have cited a significant amount of cases of religious persecution involving the Chin people.
Religious persecution poses a matter of grave concern among the Chin people. Chin Human Rights Organization, since 1995, has documented a range of human rights abuses by the military regime against the Chin people, including violations of religious freedom.
In December of 2004, Burma hosted a World Buddhists Summit amidst questions about its worthiness to organize such international meeting given the regime’s abysmal record of treating religious minorities and absolute disregard for fundamental human rights. Around the same time that this meeting took place in Rangoon, Burmese troops from Light Infantry Battalion (304) desecrated a Christian cross in Matupi of southern Chinland.
On January 3, 2005 a giant Christian cross on top of Mount Boi near Matupi town of Chin State was destroyed by Burmese troops on direct order of Colonel San Aung, one of the highest ranking military commanders in the region. The 50-foot tall concrete cross was erected by local Christians at the cost three and a half million Kyats. After destroying the cross, troops from Light Infantry Battalion (304) hoisted a Burmese flag as a sign of victory against Christianity in Chin State where more than 90 percent of the populations are Christians. There are reports the regime is making plans to construct a Buddhist pagoda on the site.
Christian religion has deep root in the Chin society. Since the first Chin conversion in the early 20th century following the arrival of American Baptist missionaries to the Chin Hills, Christianity gradually became accepted by a large majority of the Chin populations, who had practiced traditional animism for centuries. After a century since then, Christianity now is second culture for many Chin people.
Chin people today claim that more than 90 percent of Chins are Christians. Because of the overwhelming importance of Christianity among the Chins, the junta, which strongly identifies itself with Buddhism and has been preoccupied with building national unity has been trying to promote Buddhism over Christianity in Chin State with the belief that once the Chins are converted to Buddhism they can be easily subjugated.
For this reason, the regime has resorted to persecuting the Chins, a drastic action that involves arbitrarily removing Christian crosses erected by churches on hilltops throughout Chin State and openly directing and supporting coerced conversions of Christians into Buddhism.
Through the Hill Buddhist Mission, a program directly sponsored by the military regime, Buddhist monks have migrated to the Chin State. In every town and major villages in Chin State, the regime has established a Buddhist pagoda and station monks who are closely working with local army battalions. Buddhist pagodas are often built in places where Christian monuments such as crosses have formerly stood, and Christians have been either forced to donate money or forced to build the pagodas.
The regime is putting close scrutiny on preachers and evangelists, and in many instances has made effort to censor the contents of sermons delivered by Christian pastors and ministers. Citing the risk of security, authorities have either not permitted or arbitrarily set the number of people who could attend religious festivals and conferences. Moreover, the regime has still not permitted the printing and publication of Bibles, forcing Chin Christians to quietly bringing Bibles from abroad. In several instances, army authorities have confiscated Chin-language Bibles imported from India, and burnt or destroyed them.
Construction of new church buildings is prohibited and Christians must obtain prior authorization for even renovation of church buildings. These are all in stark contrast to the freedoms enjoyed by monks and Buddhists whose activities are openly supported, and encouraged by authorities. Several reports documented by CHRO show that army patrols have deliberately used Church compounds for shelter and camps, and have purposefully disturbed Church services by entering into churches during Sunday worship services.
The regime has also targeted Christian leaders by falsely implicating and accusing them of supporting anti-government groups, and has jailed and tortured many pastors. In remote villages and other rural areas in Chin State, army units on patrols have frequently mistreated, assaulted and tortured Christian pastors.
Coerced conversions of Christian families and children have also been reported in several parts of Chin State. Those who convert to Buddhism were exempted from forced labor and given special privileges. Local authorities have frequently recruited Christian children under the pretext of giving them formal education in cities. The last incidents happening in last year, five Christian children, between the ages of 7 and 18 years old from Matupi township of Chin State, who had been placed in monasteries in Rangoon, escaped confinement in Buddhist temples where they have been forced to follow Buddhist teachings.
Restriction on the use and teaching of Chin language:
Under the military regime, the teaching of Chin language in school is prohibited. In elementary schools, the permitted level of teaching Chin language is grade 2. Publications of textbooks in Chin are not provided for by the government and Christian churches are forced to bear the burden of supplying these texts. Chin school teachers of all levels of high school in Chin State are instructed to use Burmese as a medium of communication with their students. This measure has greatly diminished the level of understanding by the students in school and has served to downgrade student performance. Since the mid 1990s, the new curriculum is dominated by perspectives of Burmese or Burman culture and history, and students have complained about the lack of substance that reflects ethnic Chin perspectives in the subject. This has also been seen as an open attempt to assimilate the Chin youth into mainstream Burman culture.
Because of the limited number of government schools available for the Chin populations in Chin State, communities in rural villages have set up private schools to allow the children access to primary education. Unsupported by the government, villages have to seek their own means of running the school by contributing money and resources for the schools. However, since 1998, the regime has banned many self-supported private schools, depriving many children in rural communities of primary education. It should be noted that because these private schools are not under direct control of the government, they were able to offer alternative learning in Chin language. Restriction on the learning of Chin language has already taken its toll on the Chin youth. A high percentage of Chin teenagers are not able to read and write in their own language. This has been exacerbated by the fact that many Chin children look down on their own language and had instead chosen to use Burmese.
Burma has claimed that it has outlawed the practice of forced labor in 2001. However, independent investigations into this claim have found the pervasiveness and the continued use of forced labor in the Chin State. Local army battalions have routinely exacted forced labor from villagers and rural communities in building roads, army camps, development infrastructures and agricultural projects. In major townships of Chin state such as Hakha, Falam, Matupi and Thantlang, civilians are being routinely forced to work at government tea plantation farms. I am not going in detail about the forced labor situation, instead, I will refer you to the report we made a few months ago.The report titled “THE FORCED LABOR PANDEMIC IN CHINLAND”
The Chin people are not represented in the central, state and local administration under the military regime. After the regime nullified the results of the 1990 elections, all Chin political parties were declared illegal. These political parties include the Chin National League for Democracy (CNLD), the Mara Peoples Party (MPP) and Zomi National Congress (ZNC) Party. Subsequent crackdowns on political dissidents have forced 3 of the 13 Chin Members of Parliament to flee the country while 2 others were arrested and imprisoned for several years. Since early 1990s, the entire Chin populations have forced to live under virtual curfew. Dozens of civilians accused of supporting, Chin National Front, underground movement were arrested, tortured and imprisoned under the Unlawful Association Act. Civilians charged under this act are routinely tortured in interrogating chambers. According to a former a woman prisoner, she was humiliated, tortured and deprived of food and sleep for one week before she was arbitrarily sentenced to 3 years in prison.
I would like to highlight the particularly grave situations of Chin refugees. In the year since the military regime took over power in 1988, about 60,000 Chin refugees have fled to India, Bangladesh and Malaysia. At least 50,000 Chin refugees have lived in Mizoram State of northeast India. Neither the Government of India nor the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has recognized them as refugees. As a result Chin refugees have frequently been forced back to Burma.
The need for protection and humanitarian assistance of Chin refugees in Malaysia is no less important. Over the past few years, more than 12,000 Chin refugees have also sought sanctuary in Malaysia. Like the Chin refugees in India, they are identified as ‘illegal’ and risk frequent arrest and deportation by Malaysian authorities. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has recognized only a very small fraction of Chin refugees.
The problems faced by Burma’s ethnic groups, including the Chin people are the direct consequence of military rule and its campaign of State organized terrorism directed primarily against the ethnic people who constitute more than 40% of the country’s population. Today, the Chin people and all the ethnic people are fighting for our very survival as a people. Our cultural, ethnic and religious identities are being rapidly eroded, and our very survival as a people is being threatened by the policies of ethnic cleansing relentlessly conducted by the military regime.
Due to militarization and rampant human rights violations committed by the Burmese military regime, the Chin people have suffer untold misery in their daily lives and the Burmese military regime has created the situation that is impossible for the Chin people to survive in their own land.
The sufferings of the ethnic nationalities could only be remedied through fundamental change in the political system, a change that would allow the ethnic people equitable representation in the decision-making process of the country. Time is passing and innocent lives are being lost. The international community needs to take effective and urgent actions on Burma before the problems develop into an irreversible stage.
I hope I have presented a brief overall human rights situation in Chinland, and I think it will be good to open the panel for discussion and questions and answers. I will be happy to answer any question you may have.
Salai Bawi Lian Mang
Chin Human Rights Organization
Hong Kong, November 7, 2005
PERSECUTION OF CHIN CHRISTIANS IN BURMA
A SPEECH DELIVERED
SALAI BAWI LIAN
CHIN HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANIZATION
INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON PERSECUTED CHURCHES
COLUMBIA, APRIL 15-16, 2005
First of all, I would like to express my gratitude and heartfelt thanks to the conference organizers for inviting me to this important gathering of good Christians here in the city of Columbia. I am particularly appreciative that I have the opportunity to speak about persecuted Chin Christians from Burma, who can not speak for themselves, who have been suffering so long under the most brutal and ruthless military regime in the world.
I have come to this conference with the aim of bringing light to the decades-long systematic denial and violation of religious rights of Chin Christians who inhabit Burma’s western territory of Chin State or Chinland by the country’s ruling military junta known as the State Peace and Development Council.
My name is Salai Bawi Lian Mang, from Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO). I am an ethnic Chin from Burma.
The Chin people are one of the major ethnic groups in Burma. A South-East Asian Nation with the population of 54 million, Burma is composed with 8 major ethnic groups; Arakan, Burmese, Chin, Kachin, Karen, Karenni, Mon and Shan, and Burmese are majority with about 60% of the country population.
I will briefly talk about overall human rights situation in Burma and then my presentation will focus on persecution of Chin Christians by the ruling Burmese military regime.
At present, Burma is ruled by military junta called State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) one of the most repressive regimes in the world. Since the Burmese military took state power by killing thousands of innocent people in 1988, gross violations of human rights is committed by the military regime including political suppression, arbitrary detention, torture, rape, disappearances, extra-judicial killings, oppression of ethnic and religious minorities, and use of forced labor.
There are more than one thousand political prisoners including Aung San Suu Kyi, the 1991 Noble Peace Price winner.
Burma is the second largest opium producing country in the world and the ruling military regime is directly links with the drug trade as political crisis, civil war and abuse of power is related with notorious drug trade.
In addition to drugs, the spread of HIV/AIDS is of great concern that can affect regional stability in the near future. Burma after India and Thailand has the highest rate of HIV/AIDS in Asia. HIV/AIDS epidemic is mainly caused by drug addiction and lack of knowledge and prevention program in the country.
There is a report made by Shan Women Action Networks that the Burmese military regime is using rape as weapon of wars against ethnic Shan. The report details 173 incidents of rape and other forms of sexual violence, involving 625 girls and women, committed by Burmese soldiers in Shan State, between 1996 and 2001.
The military regime in Burma has violated the right to education by closing universities and colleges in the country for about 9 years within the past 16 years because the military regime views students as a threat to their dictatorial rule as students are the only vocal group that have been standing fearlessly against the military regime.
The use of forced labor is so widespread that the International Labor Organization (ILO) has expelled Burma from the ILO for the regime’s widespread use of forced labor.
Since 1991, the United Nations General Assembly and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights have for 14 consecutive years adopted consensus resolutions condemning the Burmese military junta’s systematic violations of human rights.
In 2003, President Bush enacted Burma Freedom and Democracy Act in response to the continued and systematic violations of human rights by the Burmese military junta.
Starting from 1999 the US Department of State, Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor annual report on international religious freedom report has branded Burma as country of particular concern for its widespread practice of religious persecution against minority religion such as Christians. In Burma more than 80% are Buddhist and Christians made only 4% in the country while in Chin state, Christians made about 90% of the population and religious persecution is a major concern in Chin state and among Chin Christians.
The military junta which made its way to power through a bloody coup in 1988 has ruled the country at gunpoint. Preoccupied by the idea of “national unity or unifying the country,” Burma’s military regime has embarked on a policy of creating a single national identity based on the policy of “Amyo, Batha, Thatana” or One race, One Language, One Religion” in other words “to be a Burman is to be a Buddhist” through assimilating all identifiable ethnic minority groups into the mainstream Burman society, a dominant ethnic group with which the regime identifies itself.
Introduction to the Chin People
Chin indigenous people inhabited the land bordering with India from the west, Bangladesh from the South-West, Arakan from the South and Burma from the east. It is estimated that the Chin, in a general sense including outside and inside of Chinland, number as many as two million, with the largest and noticeable number concentrated in the Chin State. The Chins were living as independent nation till the British invaded their land in the late 19th century and annexed all their territory into British Empire in the early 20th century.
After the second World Wars, as Burma’s independence movement grew, the Chin decided to participate with Burmese and other ethnic groups in a constitutional process towards the development of a federal union. Thus, the Chins are co-founder of today Union of Burma by participating in a multi-ethnic conference concluded on February 12, 1947, which led to the creation of an independent federal Union of Burma on January 4, 1948. However, a military coup led by General Ne Win in 1962 effectively ended the Chin’s special political status within the Union of Burma as one of its primary constituent member. Today Chin people in Burma are not represented in any form of political decision-making in the national, state or local administration.
Christianity and Chin People:
In 1899, American Baptist Missionary Rev. Arthur Carson and his wife from American Baptist Mission come to Chinland, present Chin state in Burma, and founded mission station at Haka present capital town of Chin state. Following the arrival of American missionaries, the two Chin couples converted to Christianity in 1904. Over the century almost the whole population in Chin state converted to Christianity and it is estimated that about 90 percent of Chins in Chin state are Christians at present.
In 1953 Baptist Chins organized themselves as Zomi (Chin) Baptist Convention. The majority of Chin Christians are Baptist and there are around 1,000 local small churches in all over Chin state and several associations.
Today, the impact of Christianity was not only confined within the spiritual and cultural contexts of the Chin people, it manifested itself as a uniting force for different Chin communities. With their conversion to Christianity, the Chins embraced one another as members of a community of faith in Christ. At the same time, there developed a new self-consciousness and political awareness of Chin cultural homogeneity, thus providing a new framework for Chin nationalism.
Since the first Chin conversion to Christianity in the early 1900s following the arrival of American missionaries, Christianity has been deeply entrenched in Chin society and has become part of the Chin cultural identity. Burma’s ruling military regime is systematically persecuting Chin Christians in order to replace Christianity with Buddhism and assimilated them into mainstream Burman culture. Evidence demonstrates that the military regime is using religious persecution as a tool of ethnocide against Chin Christians.
Persecution of Chin Christian:
As Chin State has the largest concentration of Christians in the whole of Burma in terms percentage, it was not only a large number of Burmese soldiers that was brought into by the Burmese regime, in the name of “Hill Regions Buddhist Mission”, the junta brought in an army of Buddhist monks who were then dispatched to various towns and villages across Chin State. Protected by the soldiers, these Buddhist monks have considerable powers over the Chin population. In many cases, local people have pointed out that the monks are military intelligence operatives who are more powerful than local army commanders. The Chin Human Rights Organization reported about the monks stationed around Matupi Township as follow:
The monks who live at Zakam, Rezua, Leisen, Vangvai and Tinsi villages rule the communities. Anyone who doesn’t abide by the monks orders is reported to the SLORC/SPDC army and he/she is punished by the army. The monks give judgment on all cases. For those who become Buddhist, they are free from any persecution such as forced labour, portering, extortion of money, etc. Whenever and wherever a monk visits, he is accompanied by the army and they arrange a porter to carry the monk’s particulars. The villagers were forced to build a Buddhist monastery and temple. But they refused, insisting “we are Christians”. Even though the army threatened action against them, they didn’t build it yet. Now the monks and army are holding a meeting to discuss this. Nobody knows what will happen.
A 40-year-old Chin Christian from Matupi Township recounted how he was converted to Buddhism, recruited and trained to be part of a campaign against Christians;
“I was invited to attend social welfare training by the [SLORC (now SPDC)] authority from Matupi on 27/2/95. When I arrived at the place, the authority told us that it is to attend Buddhist hill tract missionary training run by a Buddhist monk named U Razinn at Mindat. As we are Christian, we said we didn’t want to go. But the monk persuaded us saying, ‘it is no problem if you are Christian, it is just religious training’. So 5 other persons and I took part in the 10 day training. In the training, we were taught the 17 facts of how to attack and disfigure Christians.”
The 17 points to attack Christians by the regime is as follows:
1. To attack Christian families and the progress of Christians.
2. To criticize against the sermons which are broadcast from Manila, Philippines.
3. To criticize God as narrow-minded and egotistical who himself claimed that “There is no god except eternal God”.
4. To criticize Christian ways of life as corrupted and inappropriate culture in Burma.
5. To criticize the preaching of Christians wherever it has penetrated.
6. To criticize Christianity by means of pointing out its delicacy and weakness.
7. To stop the spread of the Christian movement in rural areas.
8. To criticize by means of pointing out “there is no salvation without purchased by the blood of Christ”.
9. To counterattack by means of pointing out Christianity’s weakness and overcome this with Buddhism.
10. To counter the Bible after thorough study.
11. To criticize that “God loves only Israel but not all the races”.
12. To point out ambiguity between the two testaments.
13. To criticize on the point that Christianity is partisan religion.
14. To criticize Christianity’s concept of the Creator and compare it with the scientific concept.
15. To study and access the amount given in offerings.
16. To criticize the Holy Bible after thorough study.
17. To attack Christians by means of both non-violence and violence.
Christian pastors and ministers secure high reverence and respect among the Chin people. They are highly respected as intermediaries between God and the congregations. Even outside of the Church, they play significant leadership role on occasions such as death, birth or marriage in the community. Also, because there are no Chin people represented in the local or state administration under the Burmese military regime, even in a secular setting, they receive high degrees of respect as leaders of the community. Today, their dignitary position has attracted the attention and jealousy of the ruling military regime, making them the first targets in the regime’s campaign against Christianity and Chin people.
During the past decade, according to Chin Human Rights Organization reports, the Burmese military regime, detained at length, killed or physically abused many Chin Christians.
The following incidents is one grave example how they treated pastors;
In August 1993, the Burmese troop arrested and they (the Burmese Army) interrogated Pastor Zang Kho Let. When the Pastor’s answers did not pleased the interrogators, the army personnel beat him with rifle butts or sticks that eventually broke almost all of his bones after two days of interrogation. They cut open his mouth to the neck and told him “We cut open your mouth so that you will no longer preach”. In the two days that they tortured him, Pastor Zang Kho Let never admitted to using the church fund to help the resistance movement or that he was involved in helping the armed resistance. The soldiers, Non Commissioner Officer NCO’s, and officers tortured the pastor with the intent to kill but he was still alive after two days of their inhuman brutality. When the torturers reported to their Commanding officer, Colonel Thura Sein Win, on the condition of the pastor, the colonel ordered them to tighten a plastic bag over his head. (Thura is an award given for bravery, like the torture of the preacher.)
After Pastor Zang Kho Let died, they dragged his lifeless body out of the school building and shot him. With a bullet wound in his body, the Burmese army unit claimed that they shot the pastor because he was trying to escape. The soldiers brought the dead body of Pastor Zang Kho Let back in the school building and placed together with the leaders of the village community, who were arrested to witness the gruesome state of the body. They were told to feel the bones, which were all broken. They were told, “If you do not tell us the truth and if you do not admit that you helped the rebel, you will face the same fate.”
The headman of the village, Zang Kho Ngam, farmers Ngam Khai, and Thawng Kho Lun admitted to helping the resistance movement in order to escape torture and death. Nonetheless, they were tortured. It took seven days for the three of them to die; they died a slow death. The soldiers cut and burned their skin. They poured salt directly into their open sores. The soldiers zealously repeated the torture that they had just meted out to Pastor Zang Kho Let. When the two farmers died, the soldiers again dragged the bodies outside of the school building and shot. The Burmese Army buried the headman Zang Kho Ngam alive.
Prohibition of Construction of Churches and Desecration of Crosses:
Several Chin Christian churches and infrastructure under construction in the 1990s were forced to stop by the military authority. Those who persisted in constructing their church building had been threatened or punished by the army. CHRO reports that; when the Burmese army ordered to stop construction of Salvation Army Church in Khampat, the pastor of the church ignored the order by resuming construction of the church. He was humiliated and badly beaten up by the army that he was hospitalized for several days.
The military regime reportedly ordered to stop construction of the following churches and Christian infrastructure; Chin Christian centenary building in Hakha – the capital of Chin State; United Pentecostal Church in Hakha; Zomi Theological dining hall in Falam; Church of Jesus Christ in Falam; hostels (both men and women) for Chin Christian College in Haka, Baptist Church in Farhual, Salvation Army church in Khampat, and the Assembly of God’s Church in Kalaymyo, Evangelical Baptist Church in Myoma Quarter, Faith Bible Theological Seminary in Lawibual Quarter, Sakollam Baptist Church, and Lawibual Baptist Church, Lai Baptist Church in Rangoon were prohibited by the authority.
Evidence shows that the Burmese military regime has actively targeted Christian symbols in its campaign of Burmanization and ethnocide against various ethnic groups in the country. Christian crosses erected on the tops of hills throughout Chin State have been destroyed. Many of them replaced with Buddhist pagodas and statue of Buddhist monks. Since the early 1980s, Chin communities in various villages and towns have erected wooden crosses on mounts and hill tops beside their villages and towns to symbolize their faith in Christianity, and to remind themselves of the fact that Christianity has played an important role in shaping their modern society and culture. In some cases, however, the erection of these crosses were in response to what the Chin regarded was the State-sponsored importation of Buddhism into Chin State with the construction of pagodas and temples in certain urban centers which began in the 1970s.
Destruction of crosses started around the early 1990s with the rapid increase in army battalions established across Chin State. Since then, almost every cross in all the nine townships in Chin State had been destroyed by the regime. Destruction of crosses is usually ordered by the township authorities or by army battalion commanders. After an order is issued, the church or community responsible for erecting the cross is given a timeframe during which they must dismantle the cross. Failure to do so within the given period often means that the cross is destroyed by the authorities and that Church leaders are arrested for defiance of orders.
As recently as January 3, 2005 a giant Christian cross on top of Mount Boi near Matupi town of Chin State was destroyed by Burmese troops on direct order of Colonel San Aung, one of the highest ranking military commanders in the region. The 50-foot tall concrete cross was erected by local Christians at the cost three and a half million Kyats. After destroying the cross, troops from Light Infantry Battalion (304) hoisted a Burmese flag as a sign of victory against Christianity in Chin State where more than 90 percent of the populations are Christians. There are reports the regime is making plans to construct a Buddhist pagoda on the site.
Since Chin Christians from inside Burma can not do anything in response to this barbaric act, exiled Chin Christians in Malaysia, India, Canada and the US has responded with protest in front of the Burmese embassies.
I would like to share you what was happening in my home town of Thantlang.
The year 1999 marked one hundredth year of the arrival of Christian gospel among the Chins. The centennial celebration was originally planned for March 15 in Haka, the Capital of Chin state where the first Ameriacan missionaries established their first mission center in 1899. Before the official celebration in Haka, advance celebrations were held locally in various townships under the leadership of local churches. In Thantlang town, the celebration was organized jointly by all denominations in the town from January 1-3 1999.
On January 5, when the celebration was over, the organizers erected a Centenneial Memorial Cross on a hilltop on Vuichip ridge, located west of the town. Though primarily in remembrance of the early American missionaries, selection of the location for the cross had other significance. In addition to its good view from town, the spot has spiritual and religious dimension to it. Before the advent of Christianity, Thantlang residents had traditionally believed that Vuichip ridge was the dwelling place of evil spirits and there had been legends surrounding the spirits roaming the ridge. The erection of the cross on that particular location was to signify that evil spirits have been defeated by the crucifixion Jesus Christ on the cross.
The cross was decorated with looking glasses so that it would be more recognizable when it glows with the reflection from the sun.
On the very night of the cross was erected, the township peace and development council ordered the destruction of the cross, compelling the very people who had erected the cross to destroy it. When the people refused, a section of local police were sent to destroy the cross. Six Christian pastors responsible for organizing the Centennial Celebration and the erection of the Memorial cross were arrested and interrogated by the authority.
In response on January 6, the whole town stage a silent protest by closing down their businesses and refusing to go to work, and by observing 24 hour fast and prayer vigil in their local churches and homes. Fearing the news of protest might spread to other towns; the authorities shutdown telephone connection of the town and arrested 20 more Church leaders. Nevertheless, on January 9, Churches in the Chin state capital, Haka joined the protest, prompting Chairman of the Chin State Peace and Development Council to go to Thantlang to end the strike by threatening and intimidating them.
Restriction on Freedom of Assembly and Worship:
Like all other freedoms, freedom of assembly is subject to severe restriction in Burma. This restriction does not exempt freedom of assembly in religious contexts.
All gatherings and conferences, including celebrations of religious festivals, require prior authorization by the military regime. However, it is usually extremely difficult, if not impossible, to obtain such authorization for occasions with potentially large turnout. Citing the risk of security associated with such events, the regime arbitrarily limits the number of people who can attend an event. Moreover, organizations must apply directly to the Ministry of Home and Religious Affairs in Rangoon for permission, a process which involves a long waiting period. This time-consuming bureaucratic procedure creates uncertainties, and it often results in the event having to be cancelled or postponed. People suspect such kind of procedure is deliberately used to prevent Christians from conducting their religious affairs.
In rural areas, local army commanders often issue direct orders forbidding worship services, as well as Christmas and New Year celebrations. The following is transcript of radio broadcast by the Oslo-based Democratic Voice of Burma on December 23, 2002.
“The SPDC frontline troops summoned people from Haka and Thangtlang Townships in Chin State and told them they were not allowed to hold any Christmas ceremonies and prayer meetings. They went from village to village and told them if they wanted to hold any ceremony they were to hold it in a simple and discrete manner at their homes. Although the chairmen of the village Peace and Development Councils and pastors argued that Christmas is a very auspicious feast for Christians and requested them to allow Christmas celebrations, the column commander of the SPDC forces refused. He also said that if the chairmen and pastors deliberately held any such Christmas feast in defiance of the order, the village chairmen and pastors would all be arrested and recruited as porters. They also threatened to dislocate people.”
Censorship on Christian Literature and Publication:
Since the military government came to power in 1962, the Christians in Burma, especially non-Burman nationalities have mostly been unable to print the Holy Bible in their own language inside Burma. Chin Christians, for instance, printed the Bile in the Chin language in India, and smuggled it into Burma in the 1970s and 1980s. Even the Holy Bible in Burmese, which was translated by Rev. Judson in the 1820s, never received permission to be reprinted from the Censor Board of the Burmese government, or at least the Old Testament never did. Only the New Testament, together with Psalms and Proverbs, once received permission to be printed during the entire period of the Burmese military regime, that is, from 1962 to present.
The CHRO received a report in the year 2000 that, in the month of 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 in 1999 by the Burmese Army, are in Chin, Karen and other ethnic languages.
Discrimination Based on Ethnicity and Religion:
Under successive Burmese governments, people of non-Burman ethnic and non-Buddhist background find themselves discriminated against their Burman Buddhist counterparts in education, employment and various levels of civil service. Even those in the army and police serving successive governments were systematically denied promotions in rank on the sole basis of their ethnicity and religion.
Since the 1980s, the new Burmese citizenship law required that every citizen of Union of Burma register for a national identity card on which all particulars including the bearer’s ethnic and religious backgrounds should be provided. Although the initial intention was to exclude “foreigners” such as Indian and Chinese immigrants from citizenship, the introduction of the identity card has had a far-reaching impact on ethnic and religious minority groups. Because the card is essential for travel, employment, health care and higher education, people of non-Burman and non-Buddhist background could be easily denied for employment as well as promotion in civil service on the basis of the particulars provided on the national identity card. In many instances, for Christians and other religious minorities, promotion in civil service is conditioned by their conversion into Buddhism. Many Christian civil servants with outstanding service records have been blatantly denied promotion while their Buddhist peers with less qualification and less seniority quickly rose to high ranking positions. Even a few exceptional non-Buddhist individuals securing high ranking positions were sacked or forced to retire from their positions.
Biak To, a Chin Christian who had served in the Burmese army from 1973 to 1990 as a Captain and later became a Lieutenant Colonel in the police explains how he was sacked for no apparent reasons in 2000:
“At the time of my dismissal, I was the only person holding a B.A degree among officers of my rank in the entire nine Police Regiments in Burma. In fact, I should have been the first one to be considered for promotions. Obviously, the authorities did not want to see a Chin Christian holding high position that they made a pre-emptive move to dismiss me without any apparent charges.”
Major Thawng Za Lian, who has an excellent record in his military service in the Burmese army until leaving the service in 1997, recounts his experience during his career as an officer with a background of minority religious and ethnic identity in Burma that;
“In the army, A, B and C are categories designated for those who can not be promoted in rank. A stands for AIDS symptom, B stands for Hepatitis B and C stands for Christians. Under these categories, those who are carrying AIDS disease are discharged from the military and those who have Hepatitis B are transferred to civil service. And all those belonging to category C (Christians) are not given promotion.”
Major Lian eventually left the army when he was asked to abandon his Christian faith and converted to Buddhism by his superior in order to be promoted.
Selective Forced Labor:
Although most Chin families have been equally affected by the army’s use of forced labor, in many cases, forced labor is specifically directed against Christians in order to coerce them into converting to Buddhism. There are ample evidences that the Burmese military regime is using forced labor as part of its Burmanization program. The apparent theory is that by converting Chin Christians to Buddhism, an important Chin identity will be stripped away, thereby eventually assimilating them into Burman identity. Forced labor has also been used to discourage people from going to church by compelling them to work on Sundays and other Christian religious holidays.
State Sponsored Expansion Of Buddhism In Chin State:
Since 1990 the military government authorities and security forces have promoted Buddhism over Christianity among the Chin. Until 1990 the Chin generally practiced either Christianity or traditional indigenous religions. The Chins were the only major ethnic minority in the country that did not largely support any significant armed organization in active rebellion against the Government or in an armed cease-fire with the Government. Since 1990 government authorities and security forces, with assistance from monks of the Hill Regions Buddhist Missions, coercively have sought to induce Chins to convert to Theravada Buddhism and to prevent Christian Chins from proselytizing Chins who practice traditional indigenous religions. 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.
Along with other methods to Burmanize the Chin, the Burmese military government has vonverted many Chin Christian families through coercion. The government rewards people who convert to Buddhism by exempting them from forced labor, fiving them ration and monthly allowance. The government also entice Chin Christian children by offering them government scholarship as part of the border area development program. Parents often entrust their children and enrolled them in the program. However, chindlren are later found to be in Buddhist monasteries with their head shaven to become vonice Buddhist monks.
A People and Culture at Stake:
The SPDC’s campaign of ethnocide against Chin people has had serious effect on the lives of the people of Chin State. The physiological dimension is rather profound. Many Chin Christians are convinced that their religious faith is making them targets for abuse, and conversion to Buddhism not only provides them a sense of security but also eases their economic hardships. Yet, there are also people who think that persecution because of their faiths makes their spiritual commitments even stronger.
However, it is already apparent that the ethnocide campaign is taking a toll on the Chin society. Families are increasingly separated and more people are feeling the Chinland to seek safety elsewhere. About 60,000 Chin refugees have fled to India about 12 thousands more are now taking refuge in Malaysia since the 1990s when the military junta began sending thousands of troops to Chinland. Thousands of Chin families have made their way to Rangoon and elsewhere to escape conditions at home, becoming internally displaced persons or IDPs. However, life is no better for those fleeing the country or those trying to find security elsewhere inside Burma. Most of the refugees living in India and Malaysia are not recognized as refugees by the host governments and are considered ‘illegal immigrants.’
There is increasing concern among Chin Christians about the uncertainties of the future. While the regime’s campaign of ethnocide is starting to take a toll on the Chin society, it seems likely that more Chin people will flee their homeland to escape human rights abuses there, increasing a threat of their religion and culture being eroded at an even fast rate. As one Chin pastor puts it “Chinland has become uninhabitable”.
In 1899, American missionary come to Chinland. They brought the gospel and Christianity to the Chin people. As we, the Chins had our own cultural heritage and religion, our fore-fathers did not accept Christianity easily when the American Baptist missionary come to our land. Only after 5 years of the arrival of the American missionaries that the first two Chin couples converted to Christianity in 1904. And following over a century, about 90% of Chins in Chin state have converted to Christianity and Christianity become part of Chin identity and culture. The Chins are now persecuted for their belief in Christianity and democracy by the most brutal and ruthless military junta in the world at present.
As a Chin Christian and human rights activists, I would like to request your prayer, supports and solidarity for my people Chin Christians in Burma.
Salai Bawi Lian Mang
April 16, 2005
[Salai Bawi Lian Mang is founder of Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO). He is editor of Rhododendron News, a bi-monthly human rights news publish by CHRO and co-author of “Religious Persecution: A Campaign of Ethnocide Against Chin Christians in Burma”. He has participated in the UN Human Rights Commission, lobbied the UN General Assembly at the third committee, contributed about “The Chin Indigenous People” at Indigenous Year Book 1999 published by IWGIA, Copenhagen. He studied Political Science at Carleton University. He was an International Visiting Scholar at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley in the year 2003-2004.Salai Bawi Lian Mang can be reached at [email protected] ]
Religious persecution is a problem of major concern in Chinland. Almost 100% of Chins are Christians. Over the past few years, The Burmese military has been forcing Chin Christian villagers to build Buddhist pagodas in their own villages. The Burmese soldiers have been descrating churches and graveyards by turning them into army camps, disturbing religious services and preventing evangelists from preaching.
The following information is provided by Rev-( Name omitted). The incident occured while he was serving in Zomi ( Chin ) Baptist Convention.
In August 1993, there come a telegram to the office of Zomi (Chin) Baptist convention, sent from Kuki Chin Baptist Association office, situated in Homalin, Sagaing Division. This telegram said : Rev Zang Kho Let and 3 other evangelists of the area died. Letter follows. When the follow-up letter arrived the office of Zomi (Chin) Baptist Convention, it said that the victims were brutally tortured and shot to death by the Burman army.
It was a great loss to Zomi ( Chin ) Baptist Convention. The letter explained how they were brutally tortured and killed. I brought the case to the Executive Committee meeting of our Convention. When I read the telegram and the letter before 54 decision making persons, I was trembling. All the members shed tears and cried for help and blessing from God. We selected words carefully to make a report to our Central Baptist office. We stood up and had 4 minutes silence in due respect of the dead evangelists, one minute each for the four. The most senior minister among us said a prayer for the dead.
The Central Baptist Office of Burma wrote a report to the Ministry of Religion. The action taken was transferring that army group. Aside from that there was nothing else we could do. All we did with the government was noted and recorded by local State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) office in Hakha, the capital city of Chin State.
Religious persecutions is a problem of major concern in Chin State. Almost 100% of Chins are Christians. Over the past few years, the Burmese military has been forcing Chin Christians villagers to build Buddhist pagodas in their own villages. The Burmese soldiers have been descrating churches and graveyards by turning them into army camps, disturbing religious services and preventing evangelists from preaching.
The Burman regime practiced their egregious policy of Burmanization and Buddhitization among the minority racial groups. The Chins live on mountains. There are certain mountains where the Chins Christians erected wooden crosses to show that the devil have been defeated by the dead and resurrection of Christ. The erections of crosses in Chinland began since ending part of 1980s. There have been crosses around towns and villages.
The military regime began to destroy those crosses in 1995. For example, the crosses erected on Rung mountain by Baptist Christians in Hakha town, capital town of Chin State, was destroyed by unknown persons. It was not burned by fire. It was systematically torn down. The believers tried to re-erect the cross on the same place. The ruler did not allow them on the ground that the Christian cross should only be erected in the compound of their churches. Likewise, there are many crosses destroy by the unknown persons for the unknown reason in many villages and towns.
On the contrary, the military regime, through the Buddhist societies, constructed many pagodas on top of village and towns in Chin State. This is interpreted as the invasion of Buddhist among The Chin Christians who do not hold political power. The Chin Christians are forced to construct the pagodas. Moreover, they are forced to donate money for the constructions.
Many pastors, evangelists, and young volunteer missionaries have been arrested while they actively worked. In May 1993, 30 young volunteer evangelists, sent by Zomi (Chin) Baptist Convention, were arrested in the town of Paletwa, Southern Chin State. The Chairman of Paletwa Township SLORC was so brutal to the young people. He didn’t give them food. They were starved for five days. After that he released them on bond that they should not preach in the township. The young evangelist left the town.
CHURCH LEADERS TORTURED IN LAUTU TRACT
The Lautu Baptist Churches Conference [under the Zomi(Chin) Baptist Convention] was scheduled to be held on 22.2.1998 in Thantlang township. The church leaders went to Hakha to get permission from SPDC office. They got no reply. Shortly after, Burmese Army troops from IB 266 and IB 50 came with 100 soldiers to Lautu Village Tract. In every village of Lautu tract, they arrested all the Church leaders. The soldiers accused Churches leaders of supporting CNF insurgents. Church leaders were forced to lie down under the sun at noon and ordered to look at the sun by the soldiers. Those who closed their eyes were beaten. The army ordered them not to hold that conference. All the villagers felt so upset because the Army had prevented them from holding the Church Conference.
The following pamphlet has been widely distributed in Burma, and the copies have been obtained in Rangoon, Mandalay, and various eastern border areas. Missionaries, honourable Monks,Cleansing Organisations The facts to attack Christians:
1. To attack Christian families and the progress of Christians
2. To criticise the sermons broadcast from Manila the Philippines3. To criticise God as narrow-minded and egotistical, who himself claimed that “There is no god but eternal God”.
4. To counter corrupt youth and inappropriate fashion
5. To criticise the preaching of Christians wherever it has penetrated
6. To criticise Christianity by means of pointing out its delicacy and weakness
7. To stop the spread of the Christian movement in rural areas
8. To criticise by means of pointing out “It is not salvation but purchased by blood”
9. To counterattack by means of pointing out Christianity’s weakness and to overcome this with Buddhism
10. To counter the Bible after thorough study
11. To criticise that “God loves only Israel but not all races”
12. To point out the ambiguity between the two testaments
13. To criticise the point that Christianity is partisan
14. To criticise Christianity’s concept of the Creator and compare it with the scientific concepts
15. To study and access the amount given in offerings
16. To criticise the Holy Sprit after thorough study
17. To attack Christian by means of both non-violence and violence
Two Pastors arrested in Thantlang, Chin State
Chin Human Rights Organization CHRO received the following report on 20th September 1999 from reliable source. On 26 June, 1999, a soldier of the 266 Light Infantry Battalion led by 2nd Lieutenant Myo Kyaw, deserted his unit, near Tlangpi village.
The villagers of Tlangpi and of Farrawn, which is one of its neighboring villages, were in no way responsible for his defection, but the chairmen of these villages and other neighboring villages were arrested, taken to Haka, and severely tortured, for it. The chairman of Tlangpi village was given a twelve-year sentence with rigorous imprisonment and the others also two to three-year sentences, with rigorous imprisonment All the chairmen of the villages in Zahnak Tlang area of the Thantlang Township, Chin State viz. of Lungler, Bungkhua, Dawn, Ralpel, Saikah, Fungkah, Thangzang, Sihhmuh, Ruabuk, Ruakhua, have also been arrested by the same Battalion. Also all the chairmen of the “yatkwets” ( block ) in Thantlang Town, viz Pu No Lal Ling of School “Yatkwet”, Pu Van Hnun of Market “Yatkwet”, and Pu Ceu Hnin of TABC “Yatkwet”, have been arrested and tortured, and one of them, viz Pu Ceu Hnin of TABC “Yatkwet”was so severely tortured that all his front teeth were knocked out. A good civilian in Thantlang town, by the name of Al Bik, was also arrested, taken to the Camp of the Military Intelligence at Rung Tlang in Hakha, and has been kept in isolation, allowing nobody to see him. All these arrests were allegedly made on the flimsy evidence that they were in sympathy with the Chin National Front CNF.
When all these arrests and atrocities were taking place, the senior pastor of the Thantlang Baptist Church, the Rev. Biak Kam, who is over 60years of age, and the General Secretary of the Thantlang Association of Baptist Churches, the Rev. Thawng Kam, called a meeting as to how to negotiate with the military authorities in charge of the area and to make a request for their release. But before they could meet with the military authority, the military authority have them also arrested at night on September 7,1999, accusing them of calling a meeting without their knowledge or permission. They were sent away hastily and secretly by night the same night, onfoot,30 miles away, to the Military Out Post in Lungler village. They have been kept there. Nothing has been heard about them, as no one was allowed to see them; hopefully they were not tortured. These two Baptist pastors were almost arrested once at the time of the problem which arose out of matters related to erecting a cross on a hill west of Thantlang in January 1999 and it could very well be that they were secretly observed and shadowed.
Thantlang Baptist Church is the biggest church in Thantlang Township with a membership of over 3000 and Thantlang Association of Baptist Churches(TABC) is a full fledge association, with a membership of 44 village churches, under the Zomi Baptist Convention, which in turn is a full fledge convention under the Myanmar Baptist Convention, which is a national convention of all the Baptist Churches in Burma. There is a great fear that all of them would be tortured and their lives be in danger of death. All the men in Thantlang town have evacuated for fear of being arrested by the military.
Myanmar Christians flee to India alleging persecution
(Source : Rangoon Post)
GUWAHATI, India, Aug 20 (AFP)
More than 1,000 Christian tribal in Myanmar have fled across the border into India this month, alleging persecution by the military junta and Buddhist monks, church leaders said Friday. The Naga tribals, mostly from eight villages in the Sagaing district of northern Myanmar, crossed into the far northeastern Indian state of Nagaland, according to Reverend Zhabu Terhuja, general secretary of the Nagaland Baptist Church Council. “Buddhist monks aided by Myanmar soldiers have been forcing the Christian Nagas residing in that country to convert to Buddhism,” Terhuja told AFP by telephone from the Naga capital Kohima. There are an estimated 20,000 Naga tribals in Myanmar. “Some Myanmarese Nagas are taking shelter in a border village called Pangsa following alleged persecution by the army,” said local police chief L.T. Lotha. “But there is no law and order as such due to the exodus,” Lothi said, Church leaders said the Naga Christians were being forced to close down their churches, which had then been desecrated or used as kitchens by the Myanmar army. Reverend Bonny Resu, secretary general of the Asian Baptist Federation said the issue had been taken up with the Myanmar Baptist Convention “so that they can apprise the government about the reports of persecution.” However, Buddhist leaders here questioned the validity of the reports. “Even if your father or mother accepts another religion, being a son you cannot force them to reconvert to Buddhism. So the question of converting Christians to Buddhism by force does not arise,” said Gyanpal Bhiku, a Buddhist monk and member of the Northeast Buddhist Federation.
100 Civilian men detained in the Church
On 26 June 1999 a Burmese soldier disappeared from a patrolling army unit enroute to Tlangpi village from Lung Ding village of Thantlang Township, Chin State.
The disappeared soldier was among the 34 soldiers from Light Infantry Battalion 266 led by 2nd Lieutenant Kyaw Soe, based at Lungler army camp located north of Thantlang town near the Indian border.The soldier who was extremely exhausted due to hunger was left behind half way during the patrolling.
Upon noticing the disappearance on arrival at the destination village, the commander 2nd Lt. Kyaw Soe ordered a section of army to search for the lost soldier overnight. However, instead of searching for the soldier, the assigned soldiers met on the way with smugglers who herded cattle to be sold in Mizoram State of India and extorted Kyats 50000 from them.
On the next day the commander with his soldiers vainly headed for Farrawn village to find the soldier. They returned to Tlangpi and ordered the villagers to find the soldier. However, the attempt too proved to be futile. They returned to Lungler camp to report the matter to Captain Phyu Win, 266 Second Battalion Commander & temporary camp Commander who just arrived to the camp ahead of him.
Under the Command of Captain Phyu Win the soldiers again immediately went back to Tlangpi village.On 1 July 1999, the Captain forcibly ordered a total of more than 100 villagers, 40 villagers each from Lung Ding and Tlangpi villages, members of Village PDC of Tahtlang village and another 15 villagers from the same village to search for the lost soldier. Some villagers who were afraid of being forced to find the soldier had to go on hiding in the farm. Worried that those already taken to search the soldier will escape, the soldier kept them in a Church in Tlangpi and strictly guarded them outside.
The arrested villagers had to sleep without blankets and had to be fed by Tlangpi villagers. Despair of the search, the Captain finally ordered his inferiors to arrest every male in the village indiscriminately at midnight to clear trees and bushes around the cart way linking Lungding-Tlangpi-Farrawn. The villagers however dared not defy the order.
The lost soldier is still yet to be found and the villagers are facing immense difficulty as the incident coincided with the cultivation season by which they make their living. This forced labors by the army had badly affected the farm work of the villagers and they(villagers) are likely to face a new wave of crop shortage within the next years. The 100 arrested villagers are still in the army detention.
PASTORS ARRESTED IN CHINLAND
Christian persecution is on the rise in Burma .The Military authorities have pulled down a cross put up to commemorate 100 years of Christianity among the Chin people.
They also arrested and interogated 26 pastors ( and Church elders ). The gospel was brought to the area in 1899 by American Baptist missionaries.Since then, almost the entire Chin population have become believers.
To commemorate the centenary of Christianity in their homeland the people of Thantlang put up a cross on their hill. The Burmese Army ordered them to pull it down. When they refused, soldiers arrested six pastors and destroyed the cross.
The people then stage a 24hr-prayer vigil effectively a general strike in their homes. The army promptly cut the phone lines and arrested 20 more pastors ( Church Elders ) for interrogation.
Chin believers in America have stage protest outside the Myanmar Embassy in Washington. They called on the military regime to stop intimidating and arresting Christians and to replant the crosses they have pulled down.
It’s the latest in along line of acts a gainst the Chin people by the Buddhist military authorities. Churches have been turned into army camps, pastors have been beaten, and Christians have been forced to register as Buddhist in a census.
A police directive in 1992 demanded that the authorities oppose the spread of the Christian religion in every family, fight and oppose the preaching of Christian in every place, and “fight”the Christian religion by both soft and cruel methods. They have even taken Christian children and initiated them as Buddhist novices in a monastery. In some places the persecution and intimidation has been so intense that entire villages have fled to India to seek sanctuary.
Almost 90 percent of the Burmese people are Buddhist. Christians from the largest religious minority with 6.5 percent are professing faith in Jesus. Yet among the chin, 90 percent are Christians. Neither Buddhism nor Christianity is the natural religion of Burma. The success of the Christian faith among the Chin is due in part to the native religious belief in one God who is the guardian of the universe and an afterlife.
What is happening to the chin is an extension of the forced Burmanisation and ethnic cleansing taking place in the country. The Christian Karen and Karenni have also been targeted for persecution. Yet according to the Burmese constitution ”the State shall not make any discrimination on the ground of religious faith or belief'”. The Universal declaration of Human Rights guaranteeing freedom of religion is a significantinternational standard that one would hope all countries would aspire to. ChinChristian leaders in exile in America say junta is deliberately trying to provoke trouble to justify their military presence in Chin territory.They believe the army is trying to stoke up an insurgency to provide the excuse to hold on to power indefinitely.
Chin leaders say the way to combat oppressionis with tolerance and forgiveness. They are calling on the junta to withdraw their arm forces from the Chin State and stop murder, rape, and robbery of civilians, along with the practice of forced labor, which is a form of modern day slavery.
MONEY FOR PAGODA FESTIVAL
In order to hold Utalin pagoda festival in1998, SPDC army battalion 538 commander Lt.Col. Saw Thun ordered Chin Christian villages such as Pathiantlang (A), Pathiantlang (B), Ramri, Arakan, Pinte, Hemate, Hemapi, Sia Oo, Para to pay Kyats 5000/- and 3- mats per each village before November 10, 1998.
Pastors and evangelists went to the area commander Maj. Zaw Tun Tin and beg him to reconsider the order because it is unusual for Christian to pay money for others’ religion activities. The Major replied them that the money is to hire a play for the festival and the Christians will also watch the play. If you don’t pay the money, action will be taken seriously upon the the villagers and will suffer. The villagers can’t do anything but to obey the army and pay the money.
Regime blocked centennial celebration of christianity in Chin State. Cross destroyed, pastors interrogated in acts of continuing Chistian persecution.
Burma’s military regime has stepped up its persecution of the Chin Christian community which is celebrating the Centennial of Christianity in Chin areas of Burma. Chin pastors are being interrogated and Centennial celebration in Haka, the capital of Chin State have been postponed by the regime at least until April. Chin Christian sought to celebrate their Christianity Centennial from January 1-3,1999 at Thantlang, another city in the Chin State of Burma. The Centennial marks the arrival of American missionaries Rev. Carson and his wife Laura Carson in 1899. On January 5,1999 when the celebration in Thantlang was over, citizen of the town posted a Centennial memorial cross at the top of Vuichip Hill near Thantlang. The Burmese military from Thantlang ordered the citizens of Thantlang to remove the cross they had erected atop the hill. After the citizen refused to removed the cross, soldiers pulled it down and destroyed it. Six Christian pastors from Thantlang, Rev. Thawng Kam, Rev. Biak Kam, Rev. Thantu, Rev. Tha Ceu, Rev. Cung Bik and Rev. Beauty Lily were then taken away from the town and interrogated.
In protest, the whole of Thantlang’s citizenry stage a general strike prayer service and fast at local churches or in their homes the following day (January 6,1999). In retaliation, the military cut all telephone lines to Thantlang and summoned 20 pastors and church leaders from various denominations for interrogation.
On January 9, 1999 churches around Haka joined the protest by holding prayer services. Military officers from Haka told church leaders that if they wanted to put the memorial cross again, they have to apply to the Home Minister in Rangoon. The Military has also ordered the postponement of Centenial celebrations in Haka until april.
The Burmese military is systematically persecuting Christians in Burma and seems intent on “cleansing” the country of its Chin population. Well over 90% of the Chin population in Burma is Christian.
UNCERTAINTY TO CELEBRATE CENTENRY
The uncertainty of celebrating the Chin Christian Centenary to be held in Haka, the capital of Chin State, is reported from inside Burma to CHRO as follows:
“It is likely that we are not going to have the Centenary Celebration” Rev. Tialkap said. The military personnel in Haka said, as Tialkap quoted, ” Your celebrating seems like it is going to be very elaborate. We cannot give you permission to have the celebration because some foreign guests are also invited. You have to seek the permission from the Ministry of Home and Internal Affairs”. Rev. Tialkap told CHRO yesterday (3rd of Feb’99) that a request is being made to the Ministry of Home and Internal Affairs. If the application is turned down, they will proceed by approaching the General Secretary-1(Khin Ngunt). If the General secrectary-1 persists in refusing them, there’s no prospect of celebrating the Centenary.
Although the Centennial Celebration Committee tried to negotiate with military personnel in Haka before approaching the Ministry of Home and Internal Affairs, to see if they would consider not inviting the foreign guests, their attempts were in vain.
MONKS AND SPDC’S SOLDIERS UNITE FOR ONE PURPOSE
Rev. Biakthang (name changed) is a missionary who was sent by the Lautu Christian Association of Thantlang township to Ann town in Arakan State. Rev. Biakthang’s wife unfortunately passed away in October 1996. In November,1998, he left the mission center for Thantlang to attend the Lautu association mass meeting. While he was away, his house was burgled jointly by monks and soldiers. They even dug out his wife’s gravestone and destroyed the stone inscription. In his letter to a friend in December, he wrote “Though I was called by the military office, after interrogations I was released without harm”. He also mentioned in his letter that some evangelists sent by Church of Jesus Christ who work in the area were beaten badly by Buddhist monks together with soldiers
Junta Orders Burning Of 16,000 Bibles, Halts Church Construction
Source: Chin Freedom Coalition
In June 2000, the SPDC officials in Tamu ordered 16,000 copies of the Bible to be burned in Tamu, Sagaing Division that borders India. These Bibles, which were seized last year by the Burmese Army, are in Chin, Karen and other ethnic languages. Leaders of the Council of Churches in Tamu area are approaching the Burmese military regime not to burn the Bibles. An appeal was also made in early July of this year by the Myanmar Baptist Convention, the organization that represents all Baptist Churches in Burma, to the top SPDC officials in Rangoon. As of today, they received no reply from the Army.
Early 1999, the Burmese Army also seized 30,000 copies of Bible written in Chinese language and which had been kept in the military store rooms in Kaley Wa, Sagaing Division. Every church member was afraid to claim these Bibles. In May and June, 2000, the Military Intelligence of the Burmese Army ordered all church building construction in Tiddim area of Chin State to stop. The buildings included the Evangelical Baptist Church in Myoma Quarter, Faith Bible Theological Seminary in Lawibual Quarter, Sakollam Baptist Church, and Lawibual Baptist Church. During first week of July 2000, worship services at the Lai Baptist Church at No. 41 U Aung Min Street, Ward 2, Mayangone, Bayint Naung Post Office, Yangoon, Myanmar, was prohibited by the authority. Most of the Chin people in the Rangoon area attend worship services here.
At present, the congregation is worshipping at Myanmar Institute of Theology at Seminar Hill, Insein near Rangoon. The church has been closed since June 2000 in spite of church leaders requests for reopening.
A REFLECTION BY AN EYEWITNESS
(Religious Persecution In Chin State)
At mid night on 16. May 1994 the Township Law and Order Restoration Council (TLORC) of Tonzang (Chin State), with the co-operation of the Township Police Force burnt down a cross on top of the hill over looking the town, which was set up by the Catholic congregation there. TLORCs of every township in the Chin State had the order from the State authorities (SLORC) in Haka to dismantle all the crosses. At that time the Baptist Church and other Christian denominations had already dismantled their crosses (set up at the same location) on their own as they did not want to defy the order from the authorities.
This tradition of setting up crosses on top of the hills has been started around the 1970s throughout Chin State, when the Buddhists started to build pagodas on top of the hills with the encouragement by the military government. As the vast majority of the Chin people are Christians they do not want their landscape to be filled with pagodas. As such they started to set up crosses on hilltops around the country before the Burmese authorities could build pagodas. In fact, there have been Buddhist pagodas in almost every major town in Chin State since more than forty years ago [after Independence & the Chin joined the so-called Union of Burma] and this has been tolerated as there are some Burman Buddhists, who are government servants stationed in Chin State and a few Chin converts as well. In the case of the Catholic Church in Tonzang, the Catholics did not want to dismantle their cross as it had been set up with catholic rituals such as blessing and pouring of the holy water by the Priest. At first the TLORC in Tonzang was reluctant to pull down the Catholic’s cross by themselves even though they knew that the Catholics were not going to do it on their own.
The conflict between the Church and the local authorities started when the TLORC recruited a forced labour for the construction of a road for the hydroelectric power project near Tonzang. The town’s people were aware that the Chin State authorities had allotted some amount of budget for the construction of the said road. But the TLORC simply wanted the money for themselves to line their own pockets and thus forced the people to labour without any wage. Three town elders, who happened to be Catholics, wrote a complaint letter to the State authorities in Haka about the corruption and some TLORC officials were transferred as a result. The entire TLORC officials were so angry with this incident and as a result they now came to see the Catholics as dissenters. In retaliation the TLORC and the police force burnt dawn the cross as mentioned above. Furthermore the police arrested four Catholic elders for three days on the ground that they were responsible for defying the State authorities by refusing to dismantle the cross.
After three days they took them to the court and appeased them not to bring this case any further to the higher authorities and declared the case closed. Nevertheless, one of the elders was sent to Rangoon to complain about the incidents of pulling down crosses in Chin State. But the Deputy Minister Col. Aung Khin of the Interior and Religiuos Affairs Ministry did not take the complaint seriously and instead said that he would see when the case would be put up to him by the TLORC of Tonzang. (NOTE: An eyewitness who was in Tonzang during the incident compiles this report for CFIS. His name is withheld according to his wish).
SPDC STORMED CHIN CHRISTIAN CHURCH
Source: NLD Central Executive Committee Press release
On the 7th July, 2000, Chairman of the Tamu township authority Captain Khin Maung Myint and his group went to the Seventh Day Adventist Church in the village of Tin-ka-ya which is about 6 miles from Tamu (Sagaing Division). He summoned the village chairman U Htaung Kho Yan and other leaders including U Htan Lein (Mission School teacher) to a meeting. After that Captain Khin Maung Myint insolently stepped up on to the pulpit with his army boots , a place that is regarded with great reverence by the Christians who normally take their shoes off as a mark of respect. He shouted rudely “With whose permission was this school opened. Where is the permit?” The church elders very courteously explained that in 1976 together with the school for religious teaching the school to teach the basic reading and writing skills was opened.
Captain Khin Maung Myint refused to accept any explanation given by them. His attitude was that of an adversary. He ordered U Htaung Kho Yan and U Htan Lein to stand up in front of him and beat them both on their backs and faces with the special offertory bags used by the church. Not content with doing that he drew his revolver out and pointed it at their heads one after the other. Then he took two bullets out boasting haughtily ” These bullets are for you Chins”. He went on punching and kicking them. He smashed the chairs and tables and other paraphernalia (bibles and sound system) on the pulpit and spat out vile expletives against the Chin people and the Christians. The expressions he used are extremely odious that they cannot be repeated. It damages one’s character and dignity. He then had both U Htaung Kho Yan and U Htan Lein arrested and locked up at the Tamu police station. On 10 July 2000 he ordered the closure of all the Christian schools in the township. News of this was published in the foreign media on 15 July. This caused him to fly into a rage. U Pa Jya Kin, the pastor of the church was arrested and locked up in the police station where the torture and persecution could be compared to the fascist torture chambers. In addition, as a punishment, all the villagers of Tin-ka-ya were made to plough the ten acres of land, which was his private property.
The military dictators are constantly proclaiming that there is freedom of worship, but the above clearly proves that this is not so. It also reflects their attitude towards the ethnic minority groups. They are steeped in the belief that they are superior. They lord it over all the smaller ethnic groups. This is so very transparent. Moreover, every kind of pressure is applied to non-Buddhists and the right to freedom of worship is denied to them. This we see very clearly with our own eyes. 6. The National League for Democracy vigorously and emphatically denounces · this behaviour and attitude of the military dictators in the treatment of the national groups, · in the bullying tactics to bind them with fear and terror, · in their disregard for the provisions of Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18 on ” freedom of religion”. We urge them to take effective action as required by law against those who have no qualms about flouting the law and cavalierly brutalize others.
Source: Central Executive Committee
National League for Democracy
West Shwegonedine Road
Rangoon , 7 August 2000
NOWHERE TO GO
(Hundreds of Chin Refugees Trapped in the Island of Pacific)
September 30, 2000
Chin Human Rights Organization CHRO had learned that about three hundreds Chins are taking refuge in Guam, a small island in the Pacific Ocean which is the United States’ territory. They all claimed that they fled from the merciless persecution of the ruling Burmese military regime State Peace and Development Council SPDC in their homeland.
The refugees include men, women with various backgrounds such as Church leaders, politicians, doctors, teachers, lawyers, traders, students and farmers. They are seeking refugee status in United States and waiting to be determined their case by the United States Immigration and Naturalisation Service US INS.
Some of the refugees are charged with illegal entry and detained by the authority of Guam on their arrival. Many more are surviving in the island with the help of local Churches and Chin communities around the world. Last week, one of the refugees Mr. K … ( name omitted ) who is under detention in Guam had called CHRO office in Ottawa to explain the situation of Chin refugees in the island. ” I am lucky among the refugees because I am in detention and I do not need to worry for food and shelter. But those who are surviving in the island have problems for their survival, they are facing shortage of food, shelter and even clothing” he said. Mr. K….was Church Council Chairman of Thantlang Baptist Church which have more than 3000 members and the biggest church in Thantlang township, Chin State. He was accused of supporting Chin National Front CNF and arrested twice by the military regime. Chin National Front CNF is an armed resistant party fighting against the ruling Burmese military regime to restore democracy and self determination. Mr. K … said that ” we have nowhere to go, we faced rampant human rights violations in our own home. We can’t even conduct worship service without their ( the military authority ) permission. The people are living in constant fear of the Military Intelligence Service MIS. Even if we fled to neighbouring countries there is still no safety. We could be arrested at any time and send back to Burma”. Last month Indian authority had arrested hundreds of Chin refugees in Mizoram State and deported to Burma.
A glance at background situation:
The story of Mr. Pu Al Bik, an influential trader and a good man from the town of Thantlang is one good example that how the military junta in Burma made to flee people from their home. Pu Al Bik was accused of supporting CNF in 1996 and sought to arrest by the MIS. Thus he fled to Malaysia and stay there for two years. His family and relatives bribed a good deal of money to the authority in Thantlang for Pu Al Bik safe return. After taking a good deal of money, the authority of Thantlang guaranteed Pu Al Bik safe return. Thus, he came home from exile to reunite with his family in 1998. But his dream was not long lasted. Soon after he got home, the MIS summoned him to their camp. There, he was put in the dark room without food and inhumanly interrogated and tortured for two weeks. During the two weeks interrogation, no one was allowed to see him.
After two weeks of interrogation, Pu Al Bik was charged with Unlawful Association Acts and sentence to seven years jail term with hard labour and sent to Kalaymyo, Sagaing Division. Just before he was sent to Kalaymyo, the relatives were allowed to see him. At that time his face was black and badly swollen. He couldn’t even eat or walks due to torture. The story like Pu Al Bik is no longer strange among the Chins under SPDC regime. The military junta has massively increased its military deployment in Chinland, creating an atmosphere for the systematic abuse of human rights. Religious persecutions and portering for the Burmese army is especially rampant across Chinland. Other human rights violations reported are: forced labour, relocation, extortion, rape, arbitrary arrest and killings. There was only one Burmese army battalion stationed in Chin State before 1988. At present more than 10 battalions of Burmese army are operating in Chinland.
According to CHRO document, at least 20 persons from Thantlang area alone were badly tortured by the Military Intelligence Service MIS in last year and they are now serving long term imprisonment with hard labour. They all are accused of supporting the movement of opposition party. Due to rampant human rights violations committed by the Burmese military regime in Chinland, a bout 50 thousands Chins are taking refuge in neighbouring countries. Hundreds of Chins are now fleeing from their home as far as a small island in the Pacific Ocean in search of a safe heaven.
US SAYS BURMA GUILTY OF CONTINUED RELIGIOUS REPRESSION
NEW YORK, Sept 5 (AFP)
The United States claims in a new report issued Tuesday that Myanmar’s junta shows no sign of diverting from a long trend of discriminating against religious minorities.
The report on International Religious Freedom accuses junta troops of destroying holy sites in areas populated by some of the country’s myriad ethnic minorities. “Security forces have destroyed or looted Buddhist temples, churches and mosques in ethnic minority areas,” said the report. “Government security forces continued efforts to induce members of the Chin ethnic minority to convert to Buddhism and prevent Christian Chin from proselytizing by highly coercive means.”
The report also says there is “credible evidence” that officials and security forces compelled people to donate labour, or money to build, renovate or maintain Buddhist monuments. “The Government calls these contributions voluntary donations” and imposes them on Buddhists and non-Buddhists” the report said. Evidence also existed of severe legal, social and economic discrimination against the Muslim Rohingya minority in the western state of Arakan, the report said.
“There were credible reports that Muslims in Arakan state continue to be compelled to build Buddhist pagodas as part of the country’s forced labour program. These pagodas are often built on confiscated Muslim land.” The United States is a constant critic of Myanmar’s military government and a strong supporter of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Myanmar was one of five countries on which were slapped with symbolic US sanctions for alleged religious intolerance late last year.
CHRISTIAN CHURCH ORDER TO DEMOLISH IN HAKA, CHIN STATE
On 12 June 2000, the CHRO received a report from a reliable source that the Burmese military junta, the State Peace and Development Council, issued an order to demolish the United Pentecostal Church located on Cherry Street in downtown in Haka, the capital of Chin State.
In addition, a church pastor Rev. Tin Hei has been placed on trial in a Chin State court. The report was confirmed by a Rangoon pastor from the same denomination who is now studying in the United States. The pastor said that the people spent a good deal of money to obtain permission from the authorities to build the church, which they constructed only after they received permission from the Ministry of Religion. The church building was completed in 1999.
In January 1999, six pastors including a woman minister were arrested for erecting a cross on their mountain top in the town of Thantlang, 20 miles from Haka. In addition, in July 1999, two pastors from the town of Thantlang were arrested for conducting a Church council meeting without the army’s permission.
On 9 September 1999, the United States’ Department of State, in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, released its first Annual Report on Religious Freedom. The report provides accurate documentation of the Burmese Army’s systematic violation of religious freedom in Burma. The United States’ State Department has designated Burma, along with China, Iran, Iraq, and Sudan, as one of five countries of particular concern for violations of religious freedom.
Over 90 percent of Chins are Christians and religious persecution is a major concern in Chin State.
The Burmese military regime continues persecution of Chin Christians and the killing of innocent Chin villagers in Chin State in the Union of Burma. On June 13, 2000, Chin State authorities of the SPDC in Haka, the capital of Chin State, summoned Rev. Tin Hei, a pastor of the United Pentecostal Church (UPC) and ordered him to discontinue the construction of the UPC building on Cherry Street.
The building is comprised of three floors, one for the church, the other for the Haka UPC District office, and the third for the pastor’s quarters. When a Students Festival was held in Haka on April 25-28, 1998, Chin Christians were forced to construct the bleachers and seats so that SPDC leaders could watch the games in comfort. Chin villagers were forced to manually gather hardwood from the forest to construct the seats.
At the conclusion of the games, the officials sold the hardwood and kept the profit. The UPC Church bought some of the wood from the SPDC to build its building. Since the construction of “church buildings” is not permitted under SPDC regulations, a church has to be built as part of a larger building. But the construction of a Buddhist temple does not require permission from the SPDC.
The UPC met all the SPDC’s requirements for the construction of the building and had received permission from the SPDC to proceed. Work on the building began in early 1999 and was nearly complete when the order to discontinue was issued. The SPDC ordered the construction to stop for two years even though the UPC had prior permission to complete the building.
The SPDC did not give any specific reasons why they stopped the construction. Similarly, on June 29, the SPDC officials in Kalemyo ordered the Agape Church of the Assembly of God in Pinlong Ward, Kalemyo in Sagaing Division to stop the construction of their church building.
The church pastor, Rev. Go Za Nang, had obtained prior permission from the military authorities. The order was given without explanation.
NO RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN BURMA
The majority population of Chins are Christians and religious persecution is a major concern in Chinland. The following statement demonstrates how the Burmese military regime systematically carried out religious persecution up on the Chin peoples in Burma. Below is an excerpt from a statement made by Pu Zo Tum Hmung during the Baptist World Congress held in Melbourn, Australia in January 2000.
Human Rights Under the leadership of General Ne Win, the Burmese Army has ruled Burma for 38 years, sometimes in uniform and sometimes under the guise of civilian dress. Since 1988, when the Army brutally repressed nationwide democratic uprisings, there has been neither Constitution nor legislature in Burma. Held at gunpoint, the people must answer “yes” to the Army’s orders, regardless of truth or reality. Dictatorial rule has led to severe economic hardship and civil unrest in Burma. According to the United States Committee for Refugees based in Washington DC (1988 USCR World Refugee Survey) there are more than 215,000 refugees from Burma living in Thailand, India, Bangladesh, and Malaysia. Approximately one million refugees are internally displaced, a number that increases daily. These reports are telling of the human rights situation in Burma .Indeed, forced and unpaid labor are so widespread in Burma that in June1999 the International Labor Organization passed the following resolutions: “That Government of Myanmar should cease to benefit from any technical cooperation or assistance from the ILO,” [ILO Resolution 28-C (a)] and “That the Government of Myanmar should henceforth not receive any invitation to attend meetings, symposium and seminars organized by the ILO.” [ILO Resolution 28-C (b)]. Moreover, since 1989, the United Nations General Assembly has passed annual resolutions urging the Burmese Army to stop violating human rights. The resolutions have been to no avail.
There is no religious freedom in Burma. Because the military regime is Buddhist, religious persecution is directed primarily at the ethnic minority groups, such as Christians and Muslims. Out of a population of 48million people, only 4 percent are Christian, while more than 80 percent are Buddhist. In August 1999, the Roman Catholic Bishops of Myanmar and the Myanmar Council of Churches stated in their letter to the Military Regime head office in Rangoon the following concerns: “Christian mission work was not permitted in some states and townships, forbidding church worship services, arresting and persecuting believers, ministers forced to stop their work, Christians forced to abandon their beliefs and destroy crosses”. On September 9, 1999, the US Department of State, in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, released its first Annual Report on Religious Freedom. The report provides accurate documentation of the Burmese Army’s systematic violation of religious freedom in Burma. In addition, the State Department has designated Burma, along with China, Iran, Iraq, and Sudan, as one of five countries of particular concern for violations of religious freedom. On September 23, 1999, the Burmese military regime responded in typical fashion to the 1999 State Department Report, stating: “The 1999 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom issued by the Untied States Department of State is inaccurate and misleading.”(Embassy of the Union of Myanmar in Washington, DC). This statement is not true, as I will demonstrate on a case by casebasis:
1) Freedom to Construct Churches
The military regime does not permit the construction of “churches” Rather, they must be built as “centers.” Yet even where the army grants permission to build a “center,” its future remains unsure. The Granite Factory in Yeik Htoo, 120 miles from Rangoon, is an exemplary story. There, Christian workers representing several different ethnic groups, including the Karen, Kachin, and Chin, received permission to build a center in June 1999.When the Center was all but complete, the Army ordered them to destroy the center. Similar incidents occurred in Haka, the capital of the Chin State, where the Baptist Churches in Haka constructed the Carson Memorial Hall in honor of the first missionary to Chinland one hundred years ago. Construction of the Hall was set to be complete before the date of the centennial, March15, 1999, and planned to display the works of the missionary and Chin cultural and historical records from the past 100 years. However, in early 1999,the Army ordered that construction of the churches is halted. As a result, the churches could not display our homage to the mission work during the centennial celebration. Unlike Christians and Muslims, Buddhists do not need permission from the Army to construct pagodas. Indeed, the regime’s Ministry of Religious Affairs has been providing funds for the construction of the International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University in Rangoon for the training of Buddhist clerics. This University opened in December 1998. In contrast, Christian and Muslim institutions were nationalized in 1964-65 and placed under control of the Army. There is no record of the Army ever having destroyed a Buddhist pagoda. On the contrary, the Army often forces Christians and Muslims to construct pagodas without pay. These examples are indicative of the fact that in Burma there is freedom to exercise religious beliefs if those beliefs are Buddhist, but not if they are Christian or Muslim.
2) Freedom to Preach
Pastors, Preachers and Evangelists must be extremely cautious in their preaching, particularly with respect to social and economic issues. In the Kaleymyo area of the Sagaing Division, the Military Intelligence maintains files on each pastor and has warned them, one by one, not to preach on economic injustice.
3) Freedom to Assemble
All conferences and Christian meetings are subject to authorization by the Burmese Army, a power that the Army exercises in an arbitrary and unjust manner. In 1999–the year of the Chin Christian centennial celebrations–the army rejected the churches’ appeals to celebrate in March, the centennial month. The Army granted permission to celebrate in April 1999, but ordered that no more than 4000 people would be allowed to participate. The Army also refused to allow former missionaries and Baptist leaders from the United States to participate in the centennial celebration.
4) Christian Literature
During February and May of 1999, the Army seized 16,000 copies of the Bible in Kachin, Chin, and Karen in Tamu town of Sagaing Division, which were printed outside the country. As of today, these Bibles remain in the Army’s hands. Christian publications must pass the inspection of the censorship authority. More importantly, contents of any proposed publications in ethnic languages must be translated to Burmese so that the Army can check the contents. For example, in 1998, the Chin Association of Christian Communication (CACC), based in Haka, went to the Censorship Office in Rangoon to publish as mall Chin literature book on the Haka dialect. One of the sentences in the book stated, “Jesus is Lord” (Zisuh cu Bawi a si). The Army forced the CACC to delete that sentence.
5) Employment Injustice Based on Religion
On December 20, 1999, I interviewed Major ….Lian….. (full name omitted for security reason)who fled to the ………………..in September 1999. Mr. Lian completed the course of officer military training and served the regime for 23 years. All of his classmates who were Burmese-Buddhist were promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Mr. Lian also should have been promoted to that rank in light of his excellent reputation and service of seniority. However, the promotion authority in Rangoon informed him that only if he abandoned Christianity and became a Buddhist would he receive the rank of Lt. Col. Mr. Lian refused the offer and fled to the United States. Mr.Lian told me that other Christians are similarly denied promotions based on their religious identification.
6) Racial Discrimination Based on Religion
On April 1, 1996, the military regime imposed a new law of inheritance on the non-Buddhist people. This law stated that all non-Buddhists must apply at military court for the inheritance of their fathers. This law is in direct violation of the customary law of the non-Buddhist people. Reconciliation Violations of human rights and religious freedom will continue in Burma unless there is democratic change. We need to change both the system and the rulers. To this end, we need a peaceful solution by way of true reconciliation. The battlefield is not the place to achieve reconciliation. Neither military might nor gun power, nor thirty-eight years of military rule, have resolved the civil wars in our land. The regime should learn this lesson, and come to the dialogue table, as the United Nations and international community have repeatedly urged. True reconciliation must be based on the will of the people. Burma needs the involvement of outsiders, and I believe our Baptists friends have a significant role to play. However, we must also learn our lessons. The cease-fire agreement signed by the regime with the involvement of church leaders inside the country only strengthened the Army politically because the church leaders remain under the army’s control. This kind of cease-fire agreement will not lead to national reconciliation. Cease-fire should be for the purpose of political dialogue under the intervention of international bodies such as the United Nations. I ask the Baptists not to provide any assistance directly or indirectly in the cease-fires arranged under the military regime’s control. Rather, I ask that you engage in pressuring the military regime to enter into a tripartite dialogue with the democratic forces, and the ethnic groups.
The 210th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Churches of the United States condemned the Burmese Army in the following words: “The illegal government of Burma is one of the world’s brutal and repressive military regime. Call the Presbyterian Church (USA) to pray for the people of Burma and to encourage world pressure of the genuine democratic government to be installed” (R. 98-20). Please remember that out of the Christian population in Burma, approximately 75% belong to the Baptist denomination. I request you, our Baptist brothers and sisters, to join with the voice of the Presbyterians, in calling for justice, peace, and change in Burma. We the people in Burma want freedom from persecution and freedom to exercise our beliefs.
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.