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Christians under threat from Burmese govt, NGO reports: The Church of England Newspaper, September 16, 2012 p 5 September 20, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Myanmar, Buddhism, Church of England Newspaper, Persecution.
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Christians in Chin State worshiping in a makeshift church beside the ruins of their old church, destroyed by the military. Photo: CHRO

The Chin people of western Burma are denied religious freedom and are being coerced into abandoning their Christian faith and forced to convert to Buddhism by the state, according to a new report by the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO).

The 160-page report, entitled “‘Threats to Our Existence’: Persecution of Ethnic Chin Christians in Burma” released on 5 September 2012 documents the military junta’s abuse of religious freedoms including forced labour, torture, church demolitions, banning of Christian worship services and forced conversions to Buddhism.

The 2012 US State Department’s International Commission on Religious Freedom categorized Myanmar as a country of “particular concern”, but a reform government led by President Thein Sein which came to power in March 2011 has ended press censorship, ended the ban on opposition parties, and released many political prisoners.

However, “Threats to Our Existence” reports the abuses of religious rights for the Chin have not ended.  The government’s “claims that religious freedom is protected by law but in reality Buddhism is treated as the de-facto state religion,” said CHRO Program Director Salai Ling.

“The discriminatory state institutions and ministries of previous military regimes continue to operate in the same way today. Few reforms have reached Chin State.”

Chin students are also frequently targeted for enrollment in schools run by Myanmar’s military which convert them to Buddhism, she said, adding that Christian students are beaten for failing to recite Buddhist scriptures.  CHRO Advocacy Director Rachel Fleming stated, “These schools are designed to facilitate a forced assimilation policy under the guise of development. The schools appear to offer a way out of poverty but there is a high price to pay for Chin students.”

“They are given a stark choice between abandoning their identity and converting to Buddhism, or joining the military to comply with the authorities’ vision of a ‘patriotic citizen’,” she said.

Chin state, which borders India, is home to around 500,000 people – the majority  of whom are Baptist or Anglican Christians.  Amnesty International reports that tens of thousands of Chin have fled to India and still face persecution from the state in Burma.

“The government needs to recognize that a multi-ethnic Burma needs to be a multi-religious Burma,” said Phil Robertson, Asia deputy director for Human Rights Watch. “This is a challenge the government has to face.”

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

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