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Clergy now targeted in shootings and arrests in Myanmar

29 October 2021


Relatives wait outside Insein prison, in Yangon, for the release of political detainees, last week

Relatives wait outside Insein prison, in Yangon, for the release of political detainees, last week

PRIESTS and churches are being targeted in a crackdown by the military government in Myanmar (Burma): there have been shootings and arrests of clergy, and buildings in Christian areas have been burned.

The UN and other groups have warned of a build-up of troops on the borders of Chin state, in the north-west of the country. The Burma Human Rights Network said that the build-up of government troops, the Tatmadaw, would lead to “mass death and suffering”, and called on the international community to act urgently to prevent “genocide or ethnic cleansing”.

There are fears that a similar crackdown as occurred in 2017 against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state (News, 17 November 2017) is under way. More than one million Rohingya fled over the border into Bangladesh, where they still remain in refugee camps.

The senior analyst for east Asia at Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Benedict Rogers, said: “So far, the human-rights community’s repeated calls for action regarding the ongoing crisis in Myanmar have met with disappointingly insufficient action. Verbal condemnations and the sanctions imposed on the Tatmadaw thus far are welcome, but there remains a need to take this further, including through the establishment of a global arms embargo as a matter of urgency.”

Human-rights groups have written to the UN secretary-general, António Guterres, calling on him to address violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief in Myanmar since the military coup in February.

Their letter refers to a rise in hate speech against Christians and Muslims, and raises the cases of the Baptist pastor Cung Biak Hum, who was shot dead on 18 September (News, 24 September); Pastor Thian Lian Sang, who is currently in custody after his arrest on 16 September; and the Mohnyin and Butaryone street mosques, both of which were raided on 3 June.

Protests against the coup have continued, and thousands of protesters have been imprisoned.

The UN’s outgoing envoy to Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, said that the country had now spiralled into civil war, and the military had no interest in compromise or dialogue. Comments from the junta itself bear this out.

Three million people are believed to be in urgent need of humanitarian assistance in Myanmar, because of the fighting, the Covid pandemic, and natural disasters, including flooding in the region.

Roman Catholics in Myanmar have been urged to speak out by the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference there, Cardinal Charles Bo.

Although it was a “challenging time” to speak out, he said, “silence can be criminal in times when evil chose to dance in the streets. . .

“The Church of Myanmar needs to move to highways and byways; to the jungles of displaced people, the homes of the unending laments, in remote villages of anxious poor hiding to protect their children from untimely death. And even to those who chose the path of evil: the Pope says ‘no one excluded’, giving the enemy the benefit of humanity.”

Seven staff members of Caritas, the bishops’ charity organisation, have been arrested while distributing humanitarian aid in Kayah state, in the south-east, Vatican News reported. A Roman Catholic church was also attacked — the seventh since the military takeover. Kayah, a remote and mountainous state, is the Church’s stronghold in the country, which has a Buddhist majority, and Roman Catholics constitute 90,000 of the state’s population of 355,000.

In Chin state, on Myanmar’s border with India, 85 per cent of the 478,000 population are Christian.

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