Updated: June 15, 2021 11:15 AM GMT
Security forces in violence-hit Myanmar raided a Catholic parish house and arrested six priests over suspected links to civil resistance groups but released them after questioning, church sources said.
Armed men raided Assumption Church in Chanthar village and its clergy house at 1am on June 13 and detained six young priests. The parish comes under Mandalay Archdiocese.
The six priests were guests who came to attend liturgical programs on the feast of the Sacred Heart on April 11 in Ye-Oo, a nearby town.
Security forces in 11 trucks raided the parish after raiding a Buddhist monastery in a midnight operation following information that training was underway in the monastery to prepare young people to be part of civil resistance groups.
Several independent civil resistance groups are fighting government forces after the army took power through the Feb. 1 coup, disposing of the elected government. Some of these groups have taken up arms to fight the military but most follow non-violent methods such as street demonstrations.
Police questioned the young priests and detained them for 15 hours, a church official said. The priests were handcuffed and not allowed to wear their robes when they were taken to the police station.
When they were convinced that we were Catholic priests, one of the senior police officers signaled to release us
However, the police didn’t arrest the parish priest and allowed him to remain in the village.
Father Anthony Zaw Win, one of the arrested priests, told UCA News that they arrived at the police station around 5am on June 13 and they “were treated well.”
The police recorded details of their background and work and their current and previous parish work.
“When they were convinced that we were Catholic priests, one of the senior police officers signaled to release us. They just asked questions and they didn’t do anything to us while we were briefly detained,” Father Zaw Win said.
Chanthar village, where missioners of the Paris Foreign Missions Society (MEP) began work in the mid-1800s, has a considerable Catholic population in a predominantly Buddhist region.
The news of the priests’ arrest spread to other parishes during Sunday Masses on June 13 and Catholics were urged to pray for their immediate release.
Soldiers also arrested a priest from Banmaw Diocese in Kachin state while he was traveling from Banmaw to Myitkyina on May 13.
He was released after four days in the military compound in Banmaw after Bishop Raymond Sumlut Gam intervened.
The military also raided churches in Kachin state and at least five Catholic churches in Pathein Diocese in the Irrawaddy Delta in April.
The arrest of priests from the Mandalay Archdiocese came after army targeted and attacked churches in Loikaw diocese in Kayah state, a Catholic-stronghold region and Pekhon in southern Shan state.