CHRISTIANS in the Anglican Communion are urged to pray this Easter for the people of Myanmar (Burma), subjected to increasingly brutal violence by the military as pro-democracy protests continue.
More than 550 people, including 46 children, have been killed by the armed forces since the military coup in February, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a human-rights organisation set up in 2000 just over the border in Thailand. It also records that 2751 people have been arrested since the coup.
The secretary-general of the Anglican Communion, the Rt Revd Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, published a prayer and a short message for the people of Myanmar on Holy Saturday.
He writes: “On Easter Day we celebrate the triumph of life over death. The resurrection of Jesus Christ was Good News for the world two millennia ago; and it is still Good News for the world in 2021.
“Today, as this ultimate Good News story is celebrated around the world, I call on Christians everywhere to set aside time to pray for the people and country of Myanmar — that wisdom will prevail and enduring peace will come.
“And to the people of Myanmar, I say: ‘You are not alone. You are not forgotten. You are not abandoned. The world is watching as this situation unfolds, and we are praying that a durable solution will be found bringing peace to all.’”
The ousted leader of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, has been charged by the military government with a variety of offences since the coup. The latest and most serious charge is breaking the law governing official secrets, which carries a penalty of a 14-year jail term. She was deposed when the military seized power and overthrew the elected government, claiming fraud after her ruling National League for Democracy party won the general election by a landslide.
The coup sparked a movement of civil disobedience, including huge street protests, which have been met with increasingly violent crackdowns from the police. The youngest known victim of the crackdown is a six-year-old girl, who was shot as she ran towards her father during a military raid in their city of Mandalay.
The World Council of Churches and the Christian Conference of Asia called for the UN Security Council to intervene, and for the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to push for the restoration of the civilian government and fresh elections.
Arms sales to Myanmar must stop, they said in a strongly worded statement, which expressed a “profound dismay” at the actions of the military junta.
“The international community needs to act urgently with constructive actions to ratchet up pressure on Myanmar military to disengage and withdraw from barbarous acts.
“During this Passion Week, we call on churches worldwide to pray and advocate for the churches and people of Myanmar, who are being terrorised with violence and death: ‘Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy’ (Proverbs 31.8-9).”
The United Nations has asked neighbouring countries to offer sanctuary to those fleeing the violence, and urges all countries to suspend deportations to Myanmar. Its human-rights office confirmed that the military were using nights raids, mass arrests, and airstrikes to subdue the population.
The airstrikes have been in the border region of Karen state, which is controlled by the Karen National Union. Many Karens are Christians. The government has battled Karen fighters on and off for years, and there are fears that the military will increase its campaign of violence against ethnic groups as part of its suppression of the pro-democracy movement. Leaders of the movement have called on the Karen and other ethnic groups to join them as allies in a “federal army”.
Thousands of people have fled across the border to Thailand to escape the conflict, though there are some reports that people have been forced back into Myanmar. Many are said to be hiding in the jungle and in caves on the Myanmar side of the border.
Gillian Triggs, Assistant High Commissioner for Protection at the UNHCR, said: “It is vital that anyone crossing the border, seeking asylum in another country, is able to access it.
“Children, women and men fleeing for their lives should be given sanctuary. They must not be returned to a place where their lives or freedom may be at risk.”