By NOBEL ZAW / THE IRRAWADDY| Thursday, January 29, 2015 |
RANGOON — Residents of the Chin State capital Hakha will take to the streets in February in protest at the state government’s order to remove a 54-foot high cross from its current location on Caarcaang hill.
In mid-January, the Chin State government issued an order demanding that the cross be removed by the end of the month as it had been constructed without official permission, the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) said in a press release on Wednesday.
According to CHRO, the order specified that failure to remove the cross would result in action being taken against J.P. Biak Tin Sang, a local involved in planting the cross in April last year.
Local Hakha residents plan to protest the state government’s order on Feb. 2 and 3 after receiving official written permission from the Hakha Township police force.
“We will demonstrate to overturn the order by the Chin State government,” Salai Van Chan Ceu, a Hakha town resident and one of the leaders of the planned demonstration, told The Irrawaddy. “We estimate about 2-3,000 people will participate in the demonstration.”
On Wednesday, a Chin State government delegation including chief minister Hung Ngai met with Christian religious leaders from Hakha, local elders and representatives from the protest group to discuss the issue.
“The chief minister told us that they would hold a meeting with other ministers and government officials and will vote on the issue [possibly on] Feb. 2,” said Salai Van Chan Ceu.
The Thailand-based CHRO on Wednesday urged authorities to overturn the order and drop “trumped-up” charges against Chin elder Tial Cem that it believes to be connected with the planting of the cross.
Tial Cem is accused of cutting down pine trees without official permission on land adjacent to the cross location. He faces a maximum sentence of two years in prison under Article 4(b) of the 1992 Forest Law if found guilty.
“Most of the big Christian crosses have [already been] destroyed and that one is one of the only large crosses [remaining] in that region,” CHRO Program Officer Mai Mon Lay told The Irrawaddy.
In a 2012 report, “Threats to Our Existence,” CHRO documented the destruction of 13 Christian crosses, four of which occurred under the current government.
Salai Isaac Khen, Executive Director of the Gender and Development Initiative, told The Irrawaddy that in some cases the government had removed Christian crosses in Chin State and erected Buddha pagodas instead.
“In Falam Township, near Var Bridge over the Manipur River in Lonpan village, a huge Christian cross on the mountain was removed [under the previous military government] and they built a Pagoda,” he said. “So the residents are not happy when they see the pagoda.”
On Thursday, a group of around 60 Chin Christians living in Rangoon gathered for a prayer service in front of the Maha Bandoola Park near Sule Pagoda against the removal of the cross.