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Persecution of Myanmar Christians 'akin to Rohingya'

US federal government commission report likens their situation to what the Rohingya have faced since 2017
Persecution of Myanmar Christians 'akin to Rohingya'

A damaged church in which four people taking refuge were killed due to army shelling at Loikaw in Myanmar's Kayah state on May 24, 2021. (Photo: AFP/Kantarawaddy Times)

Published: April 26, 2022 08:26 AM GMT
Updated: April 26, 2022 08:42 AM GMT

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has drawn parallels between the situation of minority Christians in Myanmar with the persecution faced by Rohingya Muslims since 2017.

In its annual report released on April 25, the US federal government commission said: “Faith communities, including ethnoreligious Christian minorities, now face persecution that some have likened to what the Rohingya have faced since 2017.”

The military known as the Tatmadaw under its chief Min Aung Hlaing has closely associated itself with Buddhist nationalism to promote its legitimacy, the report said while detailing how this led to rise in persecution of Christian communities during 2021.

“In February, the Tatmadaw raided Hakha Baptist Church in the capital of Chin state, arresting the pastor. The same month, the Tatmadaw raided a Kachin Baptist church in Shan state. In March in Kalay township in Sagaing Region, the military shot and killed 25-year-old pastor Chung Lian Ceu and three other civilians,” the report said.

“In May, the military attacked a Catholic church in Kayah state. In June, airstrikes damaged another Catholic church in Kayah state. In September, the Tatmadaw gunned down Baptist pastor Cung Biak Hum in Chin state as he went to help put out a fire caused by military shelling. Soldiers have torched homes and churches.

“The Tatmadaw targeted houses of worship, faith leaders and religious communities in its crackdown on the opposition ... it arrested religious leaders, including those from the Buddhist majority, for opposing the military junta.”

Myanmar continues to be on the list of countries blacklisted by the US State Department along with China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan

USCIRF has called on the US federal government to redesignate Myanmar as a “country of particular concern” for engaging in systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom as defined by the International Religious Freedom Act.

It further recommended actively supporting international efforts to hold the Tatmadaw, state agencies and officials accountable through the international legal system for atrocities against religious communities, including by intervening in the case filed by the Gambia at the International Court of Justice.

It also suggested increased engagement with multilateral and regional partners, in particular, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and domestic actors including the exiled National Unity Government (NUG) to stem religious freedom violations

Myanmar continues to be on the list of countries blacklisted by the US State Department along with China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

The US had slapped a series of sanctions on the coup leaders, their families and military-linked companies over atrocities against civilians including ethnic tribes following the military coup.

The 2017 mass killings, rapes and other atrocities perpetrated against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state, forcing over 745,000 to flee to Bangladesh, were recently designated as a genocide by the US.

Christians make up some 6 percent of Myanmar’s population of 54 million, while Buddhism is the state religion with nearly 89 percent of the population adhering to it.

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