Christian Students in Myanmar Forced to Shave Heads, Convert to Buddhism

September 21, 2012 by  
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Buddha Statue in Myanmar

Buddha Statue in Myanmar

Myanmar, September 6, 2012: A Christian aid group has revealed that students from Myanmar’s Chin ethic minority are being forced to shave their heads and convert to Buddhism, despite the president’s insistence that religious freedom is protected in the South Asian nation.

“President Thein Sein’s government claims that religious freedom is protected by law but in reality Buddhism is treated as the de facto state religion,” said Salai Ling, Program Director of the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO).

Myanmar’s population of 55 million is heavily Buddhist at 89 percent, the CIA Factbook reveals, with Baptist Christians accounting for three percent and Roman Catholics numbering one percent.

The Chin nonprofit group, which was established on the India-Burma border by a group of Chin activists, stated, however, that an ultra-nationalistic viewpoint has gripped the country, pushed by a military regime that dictates that “to be Burmese, you should be Buddhist.”

The organization highlighted the plight of Christian students who enroll at schools run by Myanmar’s military, explaining that often times the students are beaten for failing to recite Buddhist scriptures, forced to shave their heads as per Buddhist tradition and convert to the Eastern religion.

The Chin population, which numbers about 500,000 people, struggle with poverty and their only real source of income is fishing, the human rights group reported. This situation leads them to seek out military schools, which provide free food, education and government jobs once they graduate.

“These schools are designed to facilitate a forced assimilation policy under the guise of development. The schools appear to offer a way out of poverty but there is a high price to pay for Chin students. They are given a stark choice between abandoning their identity and converting to Buddhism, or joining the military to comply with the authorities’ vision of a ‘patriotic citizen’,” CHRO Advocacy Director Rachel Fleming said.

A detailed report by CHRO explores the hardships the Chin population have faced for over a decade, and documents human rights abuses they have suffered such as forced labor and torture, which has forced thousands of them to flee their homeland.

In its report, the organization urges the government to abolish the Ministry of Religious Affairs and the military-controlled Education and Training Department under the Ministry for Border Affairs, and instead use the resources to further education and minority languages in the national curriculum.

– christianpost

Christian Ethnic groups abused by Burmese army

March 28, 2012 by  
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Burma, March 26, 2012: A conference of over 1,000 Chin Christians was disrupted by Burmese soldiers, while a brutal military offensive against another predominantly Christian ethnic group continues.

Several soldiers interrupted the gathering of delegates from 80 local branches of the Chin Evangelical Church at Sabawngte village in Matupi Township, southern Chin state, on 10 March.

They rebuked the village headman for not informing them about the event, although permission had been obtained, as required for Christian gatherings, from the township general administrative office.

Pu Van Cin, a Chin MP from the Ethnic National Development Party, had a gun pointed at his stomach by an army captain when he tried to intervene.

The soldiers continued to disrupt the conference for the rest of the day, and at night, as the worship service was about to begin, a captain carrying a gun entered the makeshift church while ten soldiers stood guard around it. They returned to their camp the next day.

The conference, which ran from 8-13 March, then continued without further disruption.

The Chin are estimated to be 90% Christian. Most Christians in Burma are from non-Burman ethnic minorities; they are frequently targeted by the military because of both their faith and their ethnicity.

Salai Za Uk Ling, program director for the Chin Human Rights Organisation, said, “It is very difficult for Chin Christians to hold large gatherings without harassment and disruption.”

Brutal offensive continues

Elsewhere, in Kachin – another predominantly Christian state – the Burmese military is continuing its brutal offensive; this has led to the displacement of some 75,000 people, who are in desperate need of food, medicine and shelter.

Human Rights Watch said that the Burmese army has attacked Kachin villages, razed homes, pillaged properties, threatened and tortured civilians during interrogations and raped women. Children as young as 14 have been conscripted as forced labourers.

The military launched its offensive in Kachin State in June; it broke a 17-year ceasefire with the Kachin Independence Organisation, which controls the territory, by attacking ethnic forces.

Soldiers have seized churches, fired at worshippers and imposed severe restrictions on Christian activities.

Reforms commended

Burma has been commended by the international community for the recent human rights and pro-democracy reforms it has made, but continuing abuses against the predominantly Christian ethnic-minority groups show that the country still has a long way to go.

There is hope of further improvement, as by-elections on 1 April have been opened up to the opposition. The greatly respected pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is running for a seat in the national parliament.

– barnabas team

Church leader beaten unconscious by hired thugs in Vietnam *Soldiers interrupted Christian Conference, threatened MP in Chin State

March 24, 2012 by  
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Vietnam, March 22, 2012: A church leader in Vietnam was beaten unconscious with iron bars by a gang of thugs believed to have been hired by the authorities.

Luy Gonzaga Nguyen Quang Hoa (46) was attacked on 23 February as he was making his way home to Kon Hring after taking a funeral service in another village.

He said:

On the way back to my parish, three strangers on motorbikes came after me and beat me around the head, back, stomach and arms with two iron bars.

He came off his motorbike and was beaten until he passed out. The pastor suffered multiple injuries and cuts. The attackers damaged his motorbike and threw his watch into a nearby lake.

They had reportedly just been released from prison and apparently have connections with the local authorities, who try to prevent Christian ministers from taking services and funerals. Such groups are hired to attack church leaders and Christians in Kon Tum province in the central highlands, which the government has declared a “no religion zone”.

In a challenge to the authorities, the Bishop of Kon Tum, Michael Hoang Duc Oanh, has announced that he will take an Easter service in the parish where Luy was attacked.

He has previously defied the Communist regime’s efforts to restrict religious freedom. Last Easter the bishop took services in the Montagnard village of Son Lang, where he had been prevented from leading Christmas celebrations a few months before. Afterwards, Bishop Michael and a local minister were detained by the police and interrogated for hours. 

The Vietnamese authorities often harass and intimidate the country’s Christians. Unregistered churches and ethnic minority Christians in the central highlands and northwest provinces are particularly vulnerable to persecution. 

Officials break up meetings, confiscate religious literature, and arrest and beat up Christians. Some are pressured to renounce their faith publicly, and hundreds have been sentenced to long prison terms.

– barnabas team

Soldiers interrupted Christian Conference, threatened MP in Chin State

 

Burma, March 20, 2012: In a fresh public incident that contradicts the new image of Chin State government as a peace-loving authority, Burma Army soldiers interrupted a Chin Christian conference and threatened an MP at gunpoint in Chin State, Burma.

In its statement released today, the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) said several soldiers from Matupi-based Light Infantry Battalion No. 140 disrupted a Christian gathering of more than 1,000 delegates held at Sabawngte village in Matupi Township on 10 March 2012.

And Captain Aung Zaw Hteik and Captain Myo Min Hteik severely blamed the village headman for not informing them of the event although a prior permission had been officially obtained from the Matupi Township General Administrative Office, according to CHRO.

Pu Van Cin, Chin MP elected last year from the Ethnic National Development Party, was threatened with a gun by Captain Myo Min Hteik in civilian clothes when he came to the scene introducing himself to the army officers. 

The Captain was quoted by CHRO as saying: “I don’t give a [expletive] about you being a Member of Parliament. We are not under the control of the Chin State authorities. We take orders from the North Western Regional Command.”

CHRO’s Program Director Salai Za Uk Ling said: “It is very difficult for Chin Christians to hold large gatherings without harassment and disruption.”

The soldiers remained in the village overnight, disrupting the worship service by carrying guns and patrolling around the church, according to the statement.

“As far as we know, no legal or disciplinary action has been taken against these soldiers from LIB140. They violated the right to freedom of religious assembly and threatened a Chin MP in front of dozens of witnesses, and clearly believe they are above the law. This incident highlights the problem of impunity in Burma, especially for members of the armed forces,” continued Salai Za Uk Ling of CHRO, an organization that has monitored human rights situation  in Chin State since 1995.

The Christian conference attended by delegates from 80 local branches of the Mara (Chin) Evangelical Church at Sabawngte village in a remote part of Matupi Township took place from 8-13 March 2012.

Although armed resistance group the Chin National Front signed a preliminary ceasefire agreement with the Chin State government in January this year, Chin State remains heavily militarized, with 54 Burma Army camps stationed in all nine main township areas of the state.

– van biak thang, chinlandguardian

Pray for The CSF *Cardinal asks priests to bridge rich-poor gap *Burma troops ‘Kill, Torture’ Christian Kachins

February 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Asia, Burma, Church, India, Maharashtra, newsletter-lead, Persecution

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Please Pray: We are calling The CSF intercessors and well-wishers to pray in a very special way, as we are experiencing attacks from the evil one, especially as we take on fundamentalism of a different kind. The idea being to put obstacles in our way of positive community development. In true Christian spirit, we forgive our enemies and let the LORD be the Judge. Your prayers, we believe will help. God bless – Joseph Dias

Cardinal asks priests to bridge rich-poor gap

  

Cardinal asks priests to bridge rich-poor gapMaharashtra, February 16, 2012: Cardinal Oswald gracias regretted that the country’s progress has benefited only the rich.

Cardinal Oswald Gracias, head of the Catholic Church in India, has urged priests to make a “conscious option” for the poor.

“We have two “Indias” and the priests should build a bridge between the two,” the cardinal said at the Mass that started the annual meeting of the Conference of the Diocesan Priests of India.

The cardinal, who is the archbishop of Bombay, regretted that the country’s progress has benefited only the rich who have “everything” while the poor continue to live in inhuman condition with no access to education and minimum facilities.

“We can make a difference to them. We have to make a conscious option for the poor,” he added.

The February 14-16 annual meeting has chosen the theme, “New Evangelization: Its Meaning, Relevance and Ways of Doing in India.”

A week earlier, Cardinal Gracias had led the Indian bishops’ search for ways to help the Church contribute to the creation of a better India.

“Go back committed with good ideas to change India,” he encouraged the priests, who met in Mumbai.

He commended the priests for working together and helping each other. He contrasted it with outside scenario of bomb attacks, explosions and violence.

“Terrorism is an expression of dissatisfaction” over the unethical exploitation of the poor in the name of progress.

He asserted that the world needs priests to build “a kingdom of justice, peace and equality” in society.

The Church leader urged the priests to imbibe the example of the dedicated, selfless and courageous apostles to build a better India.

The cardinal urged priests to take the laity into confidence in evangelization works.

“We should be conscious that the laity is also the Church,” he reminded the priests. “The laity is our strength. We should not see them as problems, but as opportunities. We must empower them,” he added.

– cj verghese

Burma troops ‘Kill, Torture’ Christian Kachins despite ceasefire pledge

 

Burma troops 'Kill, Torture' ChristianBurma, February 13, 2012: Burmese troops kill or torture civilians and destroy churches and even entire villages of the predominantly Christian Kachin minority despite pledges from Burma’s nominally civilian government that it seeks ceasefire agreements with ethnic groups, investigators said Sunday, February 12.

In a report obtained by BosNewsLife, rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) said it recorded “grave human rights abuses” during a three week visit to the Rangoon and Kachin State on the China-Burma border.

The report was released Sunday, February 12, as Burma marks the 65th anniversary of the Panglong Agreement in which Burma’s government pledged, for instance, “full autonomy in internal administration for the frontier areas” in principle, including the creation of a Kachin State by the Constituent Assembly.

As Burma, also known as Myanmar, began observing the agreement with what is known as “Union Day”, CSW cautioned that while “a window of opportunity for change…after decades of oppression and conflict may have now opened,” the situation in Kachin and northern Shan States illustrate that “there is still a very long way to go”.

CSW’s East Asia Team Leader, Benedict Rogers, told BosNewsLife that the stories his team recorded from Kachin people “was among the worst” they ever heard. “A very high proportion of the people we interviewed had family members killed by the Burma Army. These were unarmed civilians, in their paddy fields or homes, who were not engaged in armed combat in any form.”

“Grave Concern”

He added that the “accounts of torture and other abuses are a cause for very grave concern, and the humanitarian challenges facing the internally displaced people require an urgent and sustained response from the international community.”

It was not immediately clear whether the troops had received direct orders from the government to carry out the alleged abuses and there was no immediate comment from authorities.

CSW said it was in Kachin State when the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) held a first round of peace talks with the Burma’s government.

Minority groups within Burma, including the Kachins, have been fighting for more rights and independence from what they view as military dictatorship for decades.

Last week a ceasefire agreement between the army and the New Mon State Party (NMSP) was the seventh such accord between the government and ethnic rebel groups since former military junta leader and now President Thein Sein made a public call for peace talks with separatists late last year.

Disputed Elections

The ceasefire, one of 11 being sought by the government which came to power in 2010 in disputed elections is seen as aimed at strengthening Burma’s case for getting Western sanctions lifted.

Along with freeing political prisoners and holding fair by-elections in April, the United States and European Union have made peace with ethnic militias a pre-requisite for a review of their embargoes.

Negotiations with the KIO’s military wing, the powerful Kachin Independence Army (KIA). have been derailed however by persistent fighting that aid groups say has displaced as many as 50,000 people.

The tensions underscore the high political, economic and diplomatic stakes at play in the region, analysts say.

Kachin State is central to the energy interests of both Burma and China, hosting crucial hydropower dams and twin pipelines that will transport oil and natural gas to supply southwestern Yunnan province.

Christianity Crackdown?

Yet, Christian rights investigators have also linked the reported crackdown on Kachins and other predominantly Christian ethnic groups to opposition among Burmese officials about Christianity.

“There has been a series of attacks against the mainly Christian Kachin people in Burma. At the end of November soldiers fired mortar shells against civilians and burnt down homes,” said rights watchdog Release International in a recent statement.

“In a separate incident, ten people, including seven children, were killed after an explosion rocked a Christian-run orphanage. The blast took place shortly after evening prayers. Sixteen children were injured, including two sons and a grandson of the Christian couple who run the orphanage,” the group said about the late November incidents.

Authorities reportedly detained the couple in charge of the orphanage, Dayawng Tang Gun and his wife Ja Dim, alleging they had made the bombs. “Residents suspect it was actually government officials who planted the explosives,” Release International explained.

CSW’s Rogers said violent incidents overshadow “clear signs of change in Burma, such as the release of significant numbers of political prisoners and the decision by [Nobel Peace Prize winner] Aung San Suu Kyi and [her] National League for Democracy (NLD) to contest parliamentary by-elections, which we should welcome and encourage.”

Government Reforms

He said that as Burma’s Union Day is observed Sunday, February 12, his group has urge the government “to build on the reforms made so far by introducing institutional and legislative reforms required to lead the country to genuine change.”

Rogers added that reforms should include “amendments to the constitution, repeal or amendment of unjust laws, and a sincere effort to begin a political process that results in a mutually acceptable political solution for all the people of Burma.”

He said the Panglong agreement “was based on equal rights for all the ethnic nationalities, a degree of autonomy, and respect for ethnic identity, within the Union of Burma.”

President Thein Sein should “recapture that spirit today, and we call on the international community to develop a balanced response, recognizing and encouraging progress while maintaining pressure for real change,” Rogers added.

– worthynews

Burmese Diplomat defects to U.S.

July 12, 2011 by  
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Kyaw Win, the second-ranking official at the Burmese embassy in Washington, D.C.

Kyaw Win, the second-ranking official at the Burmese embassy in Washington, D.C.

Burma (MNN) ― A high-level Burmese diplomat has defected to the United States, fearing democratic change in his country is stillborn.

In a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Kyaw Win is seeking asylum. The Burmese junta repeatedly rejected his efforts to build bridges with the international community, labeling him “dangerous.”

Information from the Associated Press confirms this move came about because of his stand on reform issues relating to democracy, human rights, and individual liberties. The second-ranking official at the Burmese embassy in Washington, Win supported an investigation into human rights abuses against the ethnic minorities and warned against continued oppression.

Patrick Klein of Vision Beyond Borders says the timing is interesting. “What I’m reading is that a lot people are defecting from the military. The soldiers don’t want to go into these villages and kill any more people. They’ve been forced to do it by the government, and I think people are starting to stand up and say, ‘We don’t want to be a part of this. This is wrong, and we will not.'” That’s about 15% of the military that seem to be of the same mind as the former Ambassador Win. 

Vision Beyond Borders partners with a ministry in Thailand that works in the refugee camps. Klein says they’re “openly sharing the Gospel with these people. A lot of the Karen are coming to Christ because they see that it is the Christians who are really coming to their aid.”

VBB ministry partners estimate that roughly 40% of the Karen are Christians. They’re also the ethnic minority and are in the government crosshairs.

We asked Klein why the junta decided to eradicate the Karen. He explains, “They’re living on land that the government wants because there are a lot of natural resources there. There’s gold, there are gems and timber. Now, they’re putting in dams because China needs hydro-electric power. Instead of compensating people and relocating them, it’s easier to just go in and wipe out whole villages.”

Aside from the obvious physical aspect of this genocide, there is also a spiritual side. Klein says, “From what I’m hearing, the generals are very involved in the occult, listening to astrologers and all these people, and they [the military] are just going in and wiping out the Christians.”

Other reports coming to Klein’s ears are worthy of war crimes investigation. Klein explains, “We’ve heard stories of [the military] going to the Buddhist children, giving them arms, and turning them against the Christians, [then] having the Buddhist kids go in and shoot these Christians indiscriminately.”

Win says the military is on a campaign to silence “the voices seeking democracy, human rights, and individual liberties.” That’s no surprise, and it creates a backdrop against which hope shines brightly. As people are drawn to the hope of Christ, Klein says he’s confident the Gospel will also spread. He shares about the commitment of a village evangelist they met on a recent trip. “He lost both of his hands and both of his eyes in a landmine that blew up in his face. Yet, he still goes around the village, sharing the Gospel with Buddhist people.”

Pray for the strength of Christians to stand firm in their faith, despite the lawlessness around them. Pray that freedom will come to Burma. Pray for ministry opportunities for Christians to share their faith with others.

– mnn