Updated: April 12, 2021 06:20 AM GMT
A protester holds a sign relating to the civil disobedience movement while taking part in a demonstration against the military coup in Dawei's Launglone township on April 11. (Photo: Dawei Watch/AFP)
Myanmar’s military has conducted a search of Catholic and other Christian churches in the Buddhist-majority country.
At least four Catholic churches in villages in Pathein Diocese in Irrawaddy division were searched by police and soldiers looking for alleged illegal activities or anti-coup activists on April 8 evening.
Security personnel holding guns searched inside one Catholic church and checked around the cemetery, according to church sources.
Security personnel also searched the Catholic church in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second-largest city, on April 3.
The latest targeting of Catholic churches follows military raids on other churches in Kachin state, a Christian stronghold, over Easter weekend.
The soldiers conducted searches of Catholic, Kachin Baptist and Anglican churches in Mohnyin township, Kachin state, on April 3.
On March 1, security forces also broke the gate of a Kachin Baptist church in Lashio in Shan state and detained more than 10 religious leaders and staff who were released later, according to media reports.
The reports said the security forces fired shots inside the church compound while looking for anti-coup protesters who had reportedly run into the compound.
Some Catholics spoke out on social media and condemned their actions as unacceptable as they entered a sacred place with guns.
Catholic and Protestant leaders have yet to speak out publicly about the military raids on churches.
Christians have conducted prayers, held fasts for a peaceful solution and played a significant role in nationwide anti-coup protests as well as supplying food and non-food items to people most impacted by the military coup on Feb. 1.
Christians are a minority in the predominantly Buddhist country, accounting for 6.2 percent of the 54 million population.
Areas occupied by the Kachin, Chin, Karen and Kayah — who have been facing oppression and persecution at the hands of the military for decades — are largely Christian.
More than 100,000 people, many Christians, remain in camps for displaced persons in Kachin and Shan states, while another 100,000, mostly Karen Christians, are in camps across the Thai border.
The long-standing conflicts, while not religious in nature, have deeply impacted Christian communities, with the military reportedly damaging or destroying over 300 churches, according to a US Commission on International Religious Freedom report in 2020.
The military’s bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters shows no signs of abating as the death toll has risen to more than 700, including at least 82 people killed in Bago town on April 9.
Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon has called for forgiveness and reconciliation in a wounded nation which has been bedeviled with civil wars for more than 70 years.
“Let us not repay inhumanity with inhumanity, brutality with brutality. Civil war would wound every one and would take decades to heal. Let us not take that path of self-destruction,” the prelate said on Twitter.