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Christians flee as Myanmar township burns

Christians face violence as Myanmar continues to burn under military rule. Rights abuses haunt vulnerable and minority groups as well as dissenters.

Published: September 24, 2021 11:44 AM GMT

Updated: September 24, 2021 03:21 PM GMT

Deadly military attacks have left a Baptist pastor dead, 19 houses burned to ashes and forced thousands of people to flee in conflict-torn Christian-majority Chin state in Myanmar.

The soldiers shot 31-year-old pastor Cung Biak Hum as he was on the way to help put out a fire in a house hit by artillery shelling in Thantlang township. Media reports say about 10,000 people from Thantlang have fled to neighboring Hakha township and Mizoram state of India to escape intense fighting between the military and resistance groups.

The violence left an unknown number of civilians and rebels dead, while some 30 soldiers were reportedly killed. Violence has engulfed Myanmar since the military takeover in February and fierce fighting has erupted in predominantly Christian regions including Chin, Kachin, Kayah and Shan states.

Across Myanmar, at least 1,100 people have been killed and more than 7,000 people detained since the military coup.  

Christians flee as Myanmar township burns

At least 18 homes and a government building were burned down in Chin state's Thantlang township by the Myanmar military's heavy artillery fire on Sept. 18 during a three-hour clash with the Chinland Defence Force. (Photo: AFP)

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Nearly a year after their eviction, 21 Christian villagers in Laos continue to remain homeless and destitute. The villagers from five families were expelled from the villages of Pasing-Kang and Pateum in the southern province of Salavan.

Some Christian villagers have sought shelter in a forest for a while after authorities didn’t build new homes as promised. Laos is a Buddhist-majority, communist-ruled nation of about 7.4 million where Christians are a small minority numbering between 150,000 and 200,000.

The Christian villagers were expelled by authorities from the villages for refusing to renounce their faith, according to local sources.

Christians face routine discrimination and harassment in Laos, where many Buddhists view their faith as a foreign creed of Western colonizers. In recent years, numerous Christians have been expelled from their homes after they refused to renounce their faith.

Other Christians, including pastors, were arrested and jailed for holding religious services such as burials.

At least nine Catholic nuns have died from Covid-19 in one convent and several others remain in critical condition in the Philippines. The nuns, aged 80 to 90, died due to a lack of vaccines, according to Sisters of the Religious of the Virgin Mary, the largest female religious congregation in the country.

The congregation’s convent in capital Manila has been under lockdown since Sept. 14 after 114 people including 62 nuns and staff were infected. At least four religious houses in Manila have also been put under lockdown. The elderly nuns who died didn’t get vaccines as they were bedridden and could not go a vaccine center to get jabs.

The gates to the convent belonging to the Religious of the Virgin Mary sisters in Manila remain shut following a coronavirus outbreak which has killed nine nuns. (Photo: YouTube)

The Philippines continues to reel from the coronavirus outbreak with over 2.42 million cases and 37,000 deaths registered so far.

About 18.2 million or 17 percent of the population have been vaccinated, while the government’s health department faces massive criticism over the embezzlement of billions of dollars in funds during the pandemic. 

Catholics and people of other faiths in Vietnam have paid glowing tributes to French missionary Father Jean-Baptiste Etcharren. The priest was the last member of the MEP or Paris Foreign Missions Society in Vietnam, where he spent most of his life.

Archbishop Joseph Nguyen Chi Linh of Hue Archdiocese presided over the funeral of at Hue Major Seminary’s chapel on Wednesday. The livestreamed Mass was concelebrated by four bishops and joined by 70 priests.

Emeritus Archbishop Francis Xavier Le Van Hong of Hue delivers his homily at Father Jean-Baptiste Etcharren’s funeral at Hue Major Seminary on Sept. 22. (Photo: UCA News)

Father Etcharren, former superior general of MEP, died of old age at the seminary on Tuesday at the age of 89. Born on April 15, 1932, he was ordained a priest in 1958. He moved to Hue in central Vietnam in the same year. He served at parishes, schools and seminaries in Hue and rendered support to refugees during the Vietnam War.

Following the communist takeover, he was forced to leave Vietnam in 1975. Father Etcharren led MEP as superior general from 1998 to 2010 and then returned to Vietnam to spend his retired life.

Christians in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh have appealed to President of the republic to provide protection after a radical Hindu group issued threats to demolish their churches.

Auxiliary Bishop Paul Muniya of the Protestant Shalom Church said Hindu activists, mostly from Viswa Hindu Parishad, have set September 26 as a deadline to demolish their churches, alleging they are illegal structures. The group has also issued threats to indigenous Christians in tribal-dominated Jhabua district against practicing their religion and ordered them to return to Hinduism.

Christians during a nationwide protest against the violation of their religious and social rights by governments and groups who have been openly threatening minorities in Kolkata, India, on Jan. 20, 2020. (Photo: AFP)

Bishop Muniya has handed a memorandum to the President seeking his urgent intervention. Church officials said Christians constantly face abuses from Hindu radicals who get backing from the local administration.

Madhya Pradesh is one of dozens of states ruled by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party where minority Christians face routine threats, abuses and attacks from religious extremists.

In Pakistan, the sharing of scarce water can become a cause of dispute and violence for minorities. In the latest case, Hindus in a village in Punjab province came under attack after a poor Hindu family drank water from a tap outside a mosque.

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Muslims beat up the family of Aalim Ram in Kahor Khan village, which has about 500 Hindus. As Hindu neighbors attempted to save Ram’s family, the mob attacked another 15 Hindu females, prompting Hindus to march on the streets in protest.

A Pakistani woman pumps water from a hand pump next to a toilet in Basti Ameerwala village in central Punjab province. Religious fundamentalism is worsening the country's water shortage. (Photo: AFP)

Potable water shortage is a problem in many parts of Pakistan. The government and aid agencies have been struggling to provide water in crisis-hit urban and rural areas.

The sharing of scare water also triggers violence as radical Muslims consider minorities like Christians and Hindus dirty and refuse to drink from the same water points. Asia Bibi, a Catholic mother, spent eight years on death row after being convicted of blasphemy in 2010 following an argument with her fellow farmhands over sharing water.

A prominent Malaysian transwoman and social media celebrity has sought asylum in Thailand days after she was arrested. Thai immigration officials arrested 36-year-old Nur Sajat Kamaruzzaman after a tip-off from Malaysian authorities.

She faces charges of insulting Islam in Malaysia and fears that her deportation would lead to imprisonment. Malaysian authorities want her to be extradited to face trial for “insulting Islam” by having dressed as a woman in a religious event in 2018.

Malaysia is seeking to extradite Nur Sajat Kamaruzzaman from Thailand. (Photo: YouTube)

Islamic hardliners have also targeted her and issued death threats for advocating transgender rights in Malaysia. Nur Sajat’s passport has also been canceled. She faces up to three years in jail and a fine of about 1,200 US dollars by a Sharia court.

Nur Sajat runs an online cosmetics business in Thailand and was charged with immigration-related offenses. Rights activists and netizens in Thailand have criticized her maltreatment and asked authorities not to extradite her to Malaysia.

The families of 21 Catholic farmers have sought assistance from Ruteng Diocese in Indonesia’s Christian-majority East Nusa Tenggara province to get them released from police custody.

The farmers were arrested over a land dispute in July for allegedly working on four hectares of disputed land in Golo Mari, near the tourist town of Labuan Bajo. The families met with Ruteng Diocese officials on Monday and pleaded for help to get their loved ones released.

Families of detained farmers in East Nusa Tenggara province meet Ruteng Diocese officials on Sept. 20. (Photo supplied)

Meanwhile, an Indonesian Christian YouTuber has been brutally attacked and tortured by his inmates in a prison. Muhammad Kace, a former Muslim cleric who converted to Christianity, is accused of insulting Islam and Prophet Muhammad with his controversial videos. He was arrested recently and placed in a prison with convicts.

A senior police official said an investigation found that Napoleon Bonaparte, a top former police official facing jail for bribery, and others have beaten up Kace and covered his face and body with human feces. Bonaparte admitted the offense and said his action was due to anger over Kace’s videos. 

In a rare gesture, China’s communist government has allowed the Catholic-run University of Saint Joseph in Macau to enroll students from mainland China for the first time in its 25-year history.

This prestigious university can now recruit students from the mainland for postgraduate programs in architecture, business administration, information systems and science. However, it is restricted from enrolling students for theology and philosophy courses. The university operates under Macau Diocese and is affiliated with the Catholic University of Portugal in Lisbon.

The Chinese government has allowed the Catholic-run University of Saint Joseph in Macau to recruit postgraduate students from the mainland for the first time. (Photo: USJ Students and Alumni Affairs Facebook page)

Macau was a Portuguese colony for centuries and is now a special administrative region in China. The island city has four universities and until now only the University of Saint Joseph was barred from accepting students from the mainland. Macau is a gambling and gaming hub and was ruled by the Portuguese from 1557 to 1999.

It has an estimated population of about 700,000 including about 30,000 Catholics in nine parishes.

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