Burma stepping up attacks on Christians, says rights group

Burma stepping up attacks on Christians, says rights group

Soldiers shot at worshippers at a church, tortured the pastor and forced dozens of congregants to work as porters for the army in military-ruled Burma, also known as Myanmar, an organisation that advocates for religious freedom said in a statement on November 8.

Soldiers from the Burma Army’s 88th Light Infantry Division had attacked the Assemblies of God church in Muk Chyik, a village in Kachin, Burma’s northernmost state bordering China, on November 6, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), based in New Malden, Surrey, England.

The pastor, Yajawng Hkawng, was severely tortured and is now in hospital, CSW said. The house of a church member, Jumphpawk Hawng Lum, was burned down. Soldiers reportedly looted church donation boxes and took at least fifty church members to work as forced porters.

In October, CSW had reported that the Burmese authorities were imposing new restrictions on religious activities in Kachin. Local churches were told if they wanted to conduct Bible studies or Sunday school, they would have to seek permission at least 15 days in advance. Burmese churches already require permission for other events.

The Southeast Asian country, ruled by a succession of military governments since 1962, has been designated a “country of particular concern” by the U.S. State Department for “severe violations of religious freedom.”

Though 89 per cent of the population of nearly 50 million are Buddhists and the state promotes a form of Buddhism, even Buddhist clergy have faced violent crackdowns. During pro-democracy demonstrations in September 2007, several monks received long prison sentences.

CSW said the attacks in Kachin “involving rape, forced labour, torture, the killings of civilians, and religious persecution” were grave violations of international law. “The international community must take immediate action to provide humanitarian assistance to (the) internally displaced in Kachin,” it added.

By Sudeshna Sarkar, Ecumenical News International

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