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Rights Groups Condemn Crackdown On Churches In Rangoon

Churches and apartment buildings where Christian gatherings and worship services are held have been clamped down by SPDC’s local authorities in Rangoon, the former capital of Burma.

At least 100 churches in the city have been ordered to stop holding worship services, as many as 80 per cent of churches could be affected and about 50 pastors were forced to sign at least five documents to cease church services, according to the news agency Mizzima. The pastors were reportedly warned they could be jailed if they disobeyed the order.
A report by Christian Solidarity Worldwide said: “The campaign appears to be particularly targeted at churches meeting in apartment buildings, rather than churches that own their own building and land. According to a report by the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), officials from the local branch of the Ministry of Religious Affairs summoned the owners of buildings in which churches were meeting, and issued them with an order prohibiting the use of private property for religious purposes.”
Benedict Rogers, East Asia Team Leader at CSW and author of Carrying the Cross: The military regime’s campaign of restriction, discrimination and persecution against Christians in Burma said: “There is no doubt that the regime is hostile to minority religions in Burma, particularly Christianity and Islam, and seeks to restrict and suppress them. This recent crackdown is an extremely worrying development and a serious violation of religious freedom.
“We urge the UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion and Belief, and the US Ambassador-at- Large for International Religious Freedom, to put pressure on the Burmese junta to end these violations and to permit churches and other religious institutions to operate freely, in accordance with internationally-accepted norms of religious freedom.”
Burma is categorised as a ‘Country of Particular Concern’ by the US State Department, for its violations of religious freedom, according to CSW.
The CSW’s report added that some Christians believe that the immediate cause of the crackdown is church involvement in providing relief for victims of Cyclone Nargis, which devastated the area in May 2008.
Shwekey Hoipang, a Chin pastor and activist from Burma living in exile, said: “The regime does not like the fact that Buddhists have been receiving help from churches, and fears this may possibly result in conversions. The regime does not want Buddhists coming in and out of churches. It does not want Christianity to grow in Burma. Ultimately, the regime seeks the destruction of Christianity. This is part of a top-secret plan by the military to stop Christian growth.”
In November 2008, a church building foundation, which belongs to students of Government Technological College (Kalaymyo), was pulled out and removed in Tayawaddy village, Sagaing Division by SPDC’s local authorities led by Chairman U Ko Ko Latt.
Several worship places have now been locked and sealed just before Christmas last month including three churches based in South Dagon township: the Evangelical Baptist Church, the Karen Baptist Church and the Dagon Joshua Church. An eyewitness said that in one church, the pastor presented his Legal Registration Certificate provided by the Ministry of Religious Affairs to the authorities when they came to inform him of the new order. In response, officials told him his registration certificate had been withdrawn.
Salai Bawi Lian Mang, Director of CHRO (Chin Human Rights Organisation) said: “This has been an ongoing SPDC’s systematic repression against minority religions in Burma. The military regime repeatedly claims that there is freedom of worship and no religious discrimination but gives a special status of Buddhism over other religions in the country in the May referendum on the constitution. It is obvious that people from minority religions will keep suffering from this kind of brutality.”
In 2004, CHRO published a report Religious Persecution: a Campaign of Ethnocide against Chin Christians in Burma which revealed the military regime’s systematic persecutions against Chin Christians as part of a program to Burmanzie the Chin people and various acts of ethnocide against Chin Christians by trying to destroy the Chin religious and cultural identity.
“Christians are worried that they will not be allowed to worship anymore even in their own house as some have already been warned in parts of Rangon,” said a Chin eyewitness who can not be named for security reasons.
Van Biak Thang
17 January, 2009

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