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Mission consultation for Myanmar: The Church of England Newspaper, May 9, 2014 June 2, 2014

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Archbishop Stephen Than Myint Oo of the Church of the Province of Myanmar (CPM) reports that 70 representatives from church aid agencies met in Yangon (Rangoon) on 25-26 February 2014 for a Development Partners Roundtable meeting.  The gathering discussed opportunities for local development in Myanmar following the relaxation of martial law last year and the country’s opening to overseas aid. Representatives from the American-based Anglican Relief and Development Fund noted the CPM had a “long history of sponsoring creative community development projects in areas such as education, economic empowerment, healthcare, and agriculture. Through organizations such as the Mother’s Union and the Development Desk, CPM has already improved the lives of thousands of everyday people in numerous cities and villages.” The goal set by the meeting, ARDF reported, was for the province to expand its “community development work and achieving financial self-sufficiency at every level.”

Burmese religious freedom law under fire: The Church of England Newspaper, April 18, 2014 June 2, 2014

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Burma’s proposed religious freedom law has drawn protests from Christian and civil society leaders, warning the bill submitted to Parliament by the government of Myanmar President  Thein Sein was a threat to religious liberty. Sponsored by the Buddhist nationalist group “Movement 969” the bill forbids the marriage of Buddhist women to non-Buddhist without state permission, and criminalizes Muslim and Christian proselytism of Buddhists. Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the chairman of the opposition National League for Democracy, has criticized the bill saying it violates basic human rights. The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Yangon, Mgr. Charles Maung Bo told the Fides News Agency he opposed the bill as it would “interfere with the individual right to choose one’s own religion.” The Anglican Church of Myanmar has not taken a formal stance on the proposed legislation, but a church source told the Church of England Newspaper the proposed law was part of a wider campaign of Burmese Buddhist nationalism that spelled trouble for the country’s religious and ethnic minorities.

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.

Where have all the foreign correspondents gone?: Get Religion August 22, 2012 August 22, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Myanmar, Free Speech, Get Religion, Politics.
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“Truth is true only within a certain period of time,” observed a spokesman for the Burma’s military junta in the aftermath of that country’s 1988 pro-democracy uprising, reported Emma Larkin in her 2004 political travelogue-cum-biography “Finding George Orwell in Burma”. “What was truth once may no longer be truth after many months or years.”

My mind turned to Burma and these musings on the nature of truth after reading Thomas Fuller’s solid story in the New York Times on the end of press censorship in Burma. Reading this piece also brought home the importance of having a correspondent in place that knows the territory, the players, the culture – a reporter who not only is in place, but who “gets it”. Compare the coverage in the New York Times with its story datelined Bangkok with that of the Los Angeles Times article written from California and you can see what I mean.

The LA Times opened its article with:

Journalists in Myanmar will no longer have to send their articles to state censors before publication, a landmark step announced Monday toward lifting restrictions on the press.

But reporters in the changing country still fear being punished for what they write. Free speech activists say other rules that clamp down on government criticism or touchy topics are still in place, inhibiting journalists from writing freely.

It followed with analysis, drawing quotes from scholars and Burmese activists outside of the country. On its face a nice, but thin story.

Compare it to the New York Times piece which opened with:

BANGKOK — The government of Myanmar said on Monday that it would no longer censor private publications, a move that journalists described as a major step toward media freedom in a country where military governments have tried for decades to control the flow of information.

The announcement was made to editors on Monday and posted on a government Web site. “All publications in Myanmar are exempt from the scrutiny of Press Scrutiny and Registration Department,” the government said in a terse statement.

It then moves to an analysis of the event, quoting Burmese journalists in Burma before moving to the close with context and further detail.

Like the democratization process itself in Myanmar, the government has scaled back censorship gradually. In June 2011, articles dealing with entertainment, health, children and sports were taken off the list of subjects requiring prior censorship. In December, economics, crime and legal affairs were removed. Education topics were taken off the list in March. The only two topics remaining on the list — religion and politics — were freed from censorship on Monday.

Like the New York Times, the Telegraph’s South Asia editor took an upbeat tone, but what the Times put in its last sentence the Telegraph put in its first:

Until yesterday all political and religious news had to be submitted to the government’s Press Scrutiny and Registration Department for prior approval, but the requirement was dropped in what was hailed as another significant step in Burma’s fast-moving democratic reform process.

In the past twelve months, since democracy movement leader Aung San Suu Kyi met former military leader President Thein Sein, the government has relaxed censorship and controls on trade unions, freed hundreds of political prisoners, and held a series of by-elections which were almost all won by the Nobel Laureate’s National League for Democracy and hailed as ‘free and fair.

Given that there has been a gradual relaxation of press restrictions over the past year, it makes sense that politics would be one of the last taboos. But why would religion reporting be banned?

The LA Times article does not mention the topic of religion at all, while the New York Times does not explain why religion reporting and not economics, for example, was banned. Why would a report on Burma’s parlous economic state be less of a threat to the regime than a report on a religious topic?

My assumption is that as Buddhist monks have been at the forefront of the pro-Democracy movement news about religion would be controlled by the state – but I have no knowledge on this point, and none of the articles address this. Nor is this likely to be something that falls within the catch-all of conventional wisdom about Burma – for until recently foreign reporters were banned from the country and its citizens were threatened with jail if they spoke with foreign reporters.

Why was religion so dangerous to the military junta? I can guess, but after reading these articles I do not know.

The New York Times however did a good job in capturing the excitement resident Burmese journalists felt. A joke current in Myanmar during the year Emma Larkin researched her book about George Orwell, who served as a colonial policeman in Burma during the 1920’s, was that “Orwell wrote not just one novel about the country, but three: a trilogy comprised of ‘Burmese Days,’ ‘Animal Farm’ and ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’.”

Larkin saw some truth in this joke noting that Orwell’s 1934 novel “Burmese Days” savaged British colonial rule; “Animal Farm” (1946) prophesied Burma’s “miserable experiment with socialism,” which transformed the country from one of the richest in Asia at the time of the left-wing military coup in 1962 to the one of the poorest today; while “Nineteen Eighty-Four” (1949) foresaw the transformation of the country into a society dominated by informers, doublespeak, political repression, torture and censorship.

In “Nineteen Eighty-Four” the protagonist Winston Smith works as a clerk in the Records Department of the Ministry of Truth, redacting history to conform to the party line of the present. Just as Winston Smith would “vaporize” dissidents from memory, until last year it was a crime in Burma to write the name of someone held to be an unperson, like pro-Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The tone of the New York Times piece better states, to my mind, the freedom felt by the Burmese, as does the Telegraph story. While skill in the craft of journalism plays its part, I also credit the high quality of these stories to the presence of Western reporters in the region.

This is now to often the exception rather than the rule. In an article entitled “How to Read Today’s Unbelievably Bad News” published by the Gatestone Institute, the Istanbul-based American journalist Claire Berlinski argues:

In-depth international news coverage in most of America’s mainstream news organs has nearly vanished. What is published is not nearly sufficient to permit the reader to grasp what is really happening overseas or to form a wise opinion about it. The phenomenon is non-partisan; it is as true for Fox News as it is for CNN.

Do look at this great piece by Ms. Berlinski — whose work I long have admired. It speaks to the reasons and consequences of the collapse of overseas reporting. Focusing on overseas religion reporting for GetReligion, I feel at times that I am working under a double disadvantage. The quantity and quality of international news coverage in U.S. and British newspapers has declined — and on top of that the few remaining foreign correspondents sometimes do not “get religion”.

First published in GetReligion.

Archbishop warns of unmet expectations in Burma: The Church of England Newspaper, May 27, 2012 p 7. June 4, 2012

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The loosening of restrictions on civil liberties by the Myanmar government may prompt a social and spiritual crisis for Burma, Archbishop Stephen Than Myint Oo said last week while on a visit to London.

While he welcomed changed, the archbishop said it was creating expectations that could not be met.

The archbishop welcomed the National League for Democracy (NLD) in Burma’s parliamentary victories last month, but have warned that a great deal of work lies ahead for the new government and the Burmese people.

In just the third election the country has held in the last 50 years the NLD won 43 of the 44 seats it contested. NLD leader and Nobel peace prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi hailed the vote as a “new era” for Burma.  Since October 2011, the regime has released several hundred political prisoners, relaxed press restrictions and opened space for civil society groups.

However, there several hundred political prisoners remain in jail, repressive laws remain in force and the Constitution has not yet been amended to allow political freedoms. Although the government has negotiated some cease-fire agreements with some ethnic groups to end fifty years of civil war, no national political dialogue with Burma’s ethnic nationalities has yet been initiated.

The NLD will be a minority party in a parliament that is dominated by representatives of the military junta and its political allies.  Of the 664 seats in parliament, the military is allotted 25 per cent of the seats and the junta controls a further 55 per cent of the seats.

“We want change, but it’s happening too fast,” the archbishop said.

“Many people are coming into the country – business people in search of profits, tourists, and many others – and restrictions are opening up. This will change the lifestyle of the Burmese people,” the archbishop said during a visit to the USPG.

“Over the years our people have acquired a peaceful mind; we are used to a simple lifestyle and have learned to cope with limited opportunities. We have been able to stand up to pressure and poverty, but now I worry that we won’t be able to stand up to western values,” he said, adding that the “new lifestyle coming into the country is based on individualism, consumerism, modernism, liberalism and competition for jobs and resources. The poverty gap will become bigger.”

The archbishop also warned of a clash of agendas of aid agencies entering the country and Burmese society.

“There are many NGOs that want to work with us on health and education. They do similar work, but their agendas are different, which is difficult for us. The way they approach development is new to us and we don’t understand which approach is best. We are confused. We need help,” the archbishop said.

“Myanmar is at the crossroad of big change. It is more important than ever that people remember us in prayer,” Archbiship Myint Oo said.

He also thanked the USPG for its on-going support for the church in Burma. The foundations of the Church of the Province of Myanmar were laid by SPG missionaries who first came out to Burma in 1854. The Diocese of Rangoon was formed in 1877 as part of the Province of Calcutta.

In 1966 the seventh Bishop of Rangoon, the Rt. Rev. Victor G. Shearburn along with all foreign missionaries were expelled by the Burma’s ruling military junta, and Suffragan Bishop Francis Ah Mya became the first ethnic Burmese diocesan bishop. Bishop Mya oversaw the move to independence from the Church of India, Pakistan, Burma and Ceylon and became the first Archbishop of Rangoon and Primate of Burma in 1970.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Cautious optimism in Burma: The Church of England Newspaper, April 13, 2012 p 7. April 17, 2012

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Aung San Suu Kyi

Church leaders have welcomed the National League for Democracy (NLD) in Burma’s parliamentary by-elections elections his week, but have warned that a great deal of work lies ahead for the new government.

In just the third election the country has held in the last 50 years the NLD won 43 of the 44 seats it contested in Sunday’s by-election. Official results have not yet been released, but NLD leader and Nobel peace prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi hailed the vote as a “new era” for Burma.

“This is not so much our triumph as a triumph for people who have decided that they must be involved in the political process in this country,” Mrs. Suu Kyi said in a victory speech at her party headquarters in Rangoon. “We hope this will be the beginning of a new era.”

The NLD will be a minority party in a parliament that is dominated by representatives of the military junta and its political allies.  Of the 664 seats in parliament, the military is allotted 25 per cent of the seats and the junta controls a further 55 per cent of the seats.  However, Mrs. Suu Kyi stated “we hope that all parties that took part in the elections will be in a position to cooperate with us in order to create a genuinely democratic atmosphere in our nation.”

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) welcomed the election results but “warned that Burma still has a long way to go, and urged the Burmese government to proceed with further reforms as part of the process towards genuine democratisation, peace and national reconciliation in the country.”

CSW’s East Asia Team Leader Benedict Rogers said, “This is clearly a very significant and very welcome result, and it shows the true feeling of the Burmese people. Their clearly expressed desire is for freedom, justice and democracy, values represented by Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD whom voters have overwhelmingly supported. This is, however, just the beginning, and there is still a very long way to go.”

The military government’s hostile attitude towards religious groups, critics charge, is one of the key areas needing reform.  Last week the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) 2012 Annual Report listed Burma as one of its “countries of particular concern.”

“It’s no coincidence that many of the nations we recommend to be designated as CPCs are among the most dangerous and destabilizing places on earth,” said USCIRF Chairman Leonard Leo. “Nations that trample upon basic rights, including freedom of religion, provide fertile ground for poverty and insecurity, war and terror, and violent, radical movements and activities.”

Christian churches have been subjected to years of government repression in Burma. Within the last month government troops ransacked a Baptist Church in Kachin State and on 10 March broke up a Christian conference in southern Chin State.

Mr. Rogers urged the Burmese government to “initiate a political dialogue with the ethnic nationalities, to secure a political agreement and a peace process that will end more than sixty years of civil war and stop the military’s crimes against humanity.”

“Until these steps are taken, the international community should be careful about how it responds to the by-election results,” he said, noting that “until all the people of Burma can live in peace and freedom, we cannot say that Burma is free. Today Burma has taken a welcome step forward towards change, but it has not yet changed.”

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Lord Carey in Mynamar: The Church of England Newspaper, December 9, 2011 December 8, 2011

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Lord Carey with the Burmese bishops

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Hillary Clinton, the President of Belarus, the tooth of the Buddha and Lord Carey were among four high-level visitors to Burma last week.

The visit by the US Secretary of State paired with the visit of one of the military government’s few political allies, coupled with the opening towards religion may mark a softening in the regime’s heavy-handed rule.

Myanmar is officially a socialist but not atheist country ruled by a military junta. Approximately 80 per cent of the population is Buddhist, followed in size by the Christian minority. Lord Carey’s visit to Burma, sources tell The Church of England Newspaper, is viewed as being part of a larger campaign by the government to improve its image in the West and avoid economic and political isolation.

A press statement from Lambeth Palace reports that Lord Carey, accompanied by Lady Carey and Canon Roger Symon paid a pastoral visit on behalf of Dr Rowan Williams to the Southeast Asian nation from 16-30 November 2011.

Accompanied by Archbishop Stephen Than Myint Oo, Lord Carey visited the strife-torn Dioceses of Taungoo and Myitkyina in the northeastern Kachin State – the scene of a low-level civil war between the government and separatist groups.

The retired archbishop also led retreats for the Provincial Council and the Yangon (Rangoon) council and visited church-affiliated schools, daycare centres and health and social services agencies.

Lord Carey paid a call on the government’s Minister for Religious Affairs, Buddhist, Muslim and Roman Catholic leaders as well as pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Sources in Myanmar tell CEN the government’s permission to meet with the Nobel peace prize laureate indicates a softening of the government’s hard-line approach towards Christianity – scene as a potential source of political dissent in the Myanmar.

The source, who asked not to be named, noted the Anglican visit will be followed on 8 December 2011 by a ceremony at Yangon’s Roman Catholic cathedral. Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino, the Pope’s special envoy to Myanmar, will mark the centenary of its construction. Mrs Suu Kyi, a Buddhist, will attend the mass, as will the minister for religious affairs.

The wisdom tooth of the Buddha is also in the midst of a 48-day tour of Myanmar. After visiting Rangoon and Mandalay, the tooth — encased in a golden reliquary and escorted by attendants dressed in gold silk uniforms — travelled by special plane to country’s new capital Naypyidaw and was paraded through the streets of the capital by elephant before being installed at the Uppatasanti Temple.

The Asia Times notes that the “lead Myanmar story in the world’s press” is the “Westward tilt of the quasi-civilian regime.”

The “backstory” however, involves the regime’s efforts “to make nice with the United States and the democratic opposition, while still quietly cleaving to the authoritarian regimes that still provide the most reliable guarantee of its survival.”

CSW backs pro-democracy group’s election boycott in Burma: The Church of England Newspaper, April 9, 2010, p 7. April 17, 2010

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Myanmar, Church of England Newspaper, Politics.
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General Than Shwe

First published in The Church of England Newspaper

The leaders of Burma’s National League for Democracy (NLD) have voted to boycott the country’s forthcoming General Elections, claiming the military junta’s voting rules are “unfair” and “unjust.”

On March 29 the NLD said it would sit out the country’s first elections in two decades after the government announced that political prisoners would be banned from standing for election. Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi who has been under house arrest for 15 of the past 21 years, and many of the pro-democracy movements leaders were declared ineligible after the army announced the new election rules last month.

No firm date has been set for the General Election, but Japan’s Asahi Shimbun reported that the election will be held on Oct 10, as the regimes leaders believe that it is an auspicious date and will prove lucky for the junta: the 10th day of the 10th month of the year 2010.

A spokesman for Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) told The Church of England Newspaper the new election laws had “forced the NLD into an impossible position.”

“The NLD, which won the 1990 elections with 82 per cent of the parliamentary seats and is therefore the legitimate representative of the people, would have to expel its leader Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners who are members of the party, and accept the new constitution, if it wished to participate in the elections. Such an ultimatum completely violates even the most basic standards of democracy, the rule of law and human rights, and as such left the NLD with no option but to refuse to register or participate in the regime’s fake elections,” CSW said.

Critics charge the new constitution is “inherently undemocratic” and offers “little prospect of meaningful transition to federal democracy, protection of ethnic rights or respect for human rights.”

CSW stated it “completely understands and fully respects the decision” taken by the NLD and urged the international community to reject the “sham” elections. It asked the UN Security Council to impose a universal arms embargo against the regime and establish a commission of inquiry to investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

On March 24 Britain’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Mark Lyell Grant, said government would support an investigation of the regime by the International Criminal Court (ICC). However, as Burma is not a party to the ICC, “it would require the Security Council to make a reference, and I don’t think the Security Council is sufficiently unanimous in its view to allow such a reference to happen,” Mr. Lyell Grant said.

CSW’s East Asia Team Leader Benedict Rogers said: “We are delighted that the United Kingdom is showing leadership on this issue,” and urged the government to “devote energy and resources to building an international coalition to take this forward, working with countries such as Australia which have already expressed support. It is vital that in the run-up to the regime’s fake elections, its crimes against humanity and the prevailing culture of impunity in Burma are addressed by the United Nations, and action is taken to end the regime’s campaign of rape, forced labour, torture, destruction, killing and terror.”

Terry Waite backs statement in support of Aung San Suu Kyi: CEN 6.24.09 June 26, 2009

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Terry Waite

Terry Waite

First published in The Church of England Newspaper

Terry Waite, Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie’s Assistant for Anglican Communion Affairs, has joined over 100 former political prisoners in endorsing a statement calling for the release of Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Ky and for the UN to impose an arms embargo on the military junta ruling the country.

Currently in her 14th year of house arrest, Madame Suu Kyi is being tried for violating the terms of her jailing for permitting a disturbed American man to swim across a lake to visit her house in Rangoon in early May. The imprisoned Burmese leader faces an additional five years confinement if found guilty of the charge.

The statement endorsed by 107 former political prisoners, including former Czech president Vaclav Havel, the former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia Anwar Ibrahim, Ingrid Betancourt of Colombia, the former president of South Korea Kim Dae-jung, and Yuri Orlov, nuclear physicist and onetime Soviet dissident signed the 64-word statement to Madame Suu Kyi to mark her 64th birthday on June 19.

“The continued denial of your freedom unacceptably attacks the human rights of all 2,156 political prisoners in Myanmar. As those also incarcerated for our political beliefs, we share the world’s outrage. We call on the United Nations Security Council to press the Myanmar Government to immediately release all political prisoners, and to restrict the weapons that strengthen its hand through a global arms embargo.”

Shao Jiang a Chinese student leader and democracy activist stated, that “As a survivor of Tiananmen Square, I know the true value of democracy and freedom. The international community, including the United Nations Security Council, needs to take strong action to ensure the immediate release of all political prisoners in Burma. Citizens around the world, let’s unite and bring down the dictators!”

Prime Minister Gordon Brown also recorded a strongly worded message of support for Madame Suu Kyi, stating her detention was an “intolerable injustice.” The prime minister said he hoped that the democracy activist’s coming birthday would be the “last you spend without your freedom.”

British politicians join Burma campaign: CEN 5.11.09 May 11, 2009

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Myanmar, British Foreign Policy, Church of England Newspaper, Persecution, Politics.
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William Hague, Neil Kinnock and Lord Steel have lent their support to Christian Solidarity Worldwide’s (CSW) ChangeforBurma petition, which calls upon the UN Security Council to bring Burma’s military junta before the International Criminal Court to answer for its crimes against humanity, and for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to make the release of the regime’s 2100 political prisoners one of his top priorities.

Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague MP (pictured), who led the Conservative Party from 1997-2001 last month endorsed the petition saying, “In the wake of the shocking prison sentences imposed on activists in Burma, and the regime’s continuing crimes against humanity, it is vital that we do everything in our power to summon up the will of the international community to influence the junta in Burma and seek the release of all political prisoners.”

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

British politicians join Burma campaign

Burma launches new crackdown on religious groups: CEN 1.23.09 p 8. January 24, 2009

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Myanmar, Church of England Newspaper, Persecution.
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Burma’s military junta has begun a new round of anti-Christian campaigning, pro-democracy activists have claimed. On Jan 13 the Democratic Voice of Burma reported the Ministry of Religious Affairs had ordered the closure of the country’s house churches.

Many Christians in Rangoon and across Burma worship in private residences as the government has forbidden the construction of new churches since it came to power in the early 1960s. The DVB said the government summoned the owners of buildings being used for religious gatherings and instructed them to cease all meetings, or warned that the buildings would be seized.

The order affects some 100 congregations in Rangoon, the Mizzima news agency reports, representing some 80 per cent of the churches in the city. The city’s colonial-era churches, where religious services are closely monitored by the state, so far appear to have escaped closure.

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper’s Religious Intelligence section.

Burma launches new crackdown on religious groups

Cyclone destruction will “continue for another year” says Archbishop: CEN 11.21.08 p 6. November 23, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Myanmar, Church of England Newspaper, Disaster Relief.
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The people of the Irrawaddy Delta of southern Burma will need at least one more year to recover from the devastation of Cyclone Nargis, the Archbishop of Myanmar has written in a letter to the Anglican Communion from Rangoon.

On Sept 25, Archbishop Stephen Than Myint Oo reported that life remained difficult five months after the cyclone struck southern Burma. The summer monsoon rains have “worsened conditions of overcrowding, lack of hygiene and potential spread of diseases. Most of the existing water sources are either damaged or spoiled,” the archbishop wrote.

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

Cyclone devastation 'to last another year'

Concern over arrest of Burmese monk: CEN 9.12.08 p 6. September 15, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Myanmar, Buddhism, Church of England Newspaper, Politics.
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The abbot of a Buddhist monastery was arrested during a pre-dawn raid in Rangoon on Sept 5, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) Burma reports.

The arrest of the Ven U Thila Won, abbot of the Malayone monastery in the Rangoon’s Thanlin district comes at the start of the treason trials of monks who led last year’s “Saffron Revolution” against the military junta in Burma. According to a statement released by the Bangkok-based AAPP, the security services entered the monastery at around 2:00am on Sept 5 and forced the 17 monks in residence to lie down on the floor as the building was searched. The abbot was taken into custody and the monks told not to leave the monastery.

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

Concern over arrest of Burmese monk

Burmese jail over 700 monks: CEN 9.05.08 September 5, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Myanmar, Buddhism, Church of England Newspaper, Persecution, Politics.
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Over 700 monks have been jailed by the Burmese military junta since the introduction of martial law in 1988, the Burma Lawyers’ Council (BLC) reported on Sept 2, with at least 19 having died while in custody.

The statistics on the government’s jailing of Buddhist monks for pro-democracy activities comes at the start of the trial of the Ven. U Gambira, leader of Burma’s “Saffron Revolution.”

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

Burmese jail over 700 monks

House arrest row: CEN 6.06.08 p 7. June 7, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Myanmar, Church of England Newspaper, Politics.
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Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

Church and government leaders have condemned the extension of the house arrest of Burmese democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi by the military junta, saying it violates Burmese law and international human rights treaties.

On May 27 Foreign Secretary David Milliband said he was “saddened, if not surprised, to learn that the Burmese Government has, once again, decided to extend the house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi”

“Along with some 2,000 other political prisoners in Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi lost her freedom for simply expressing a desire to bring democracy to Burma. She has now spent more than twelve of the last eighteen years in detention. That she will spend her 63rd birthday next month in total isolation is an indictment of the regime,” he said, urging the military junta to free her so that she may “play her rightful role in the process of genuine national reconciliation.”

In 1990, Aung San Suu Kyi led the National League for Democracy (NLD) to victory in parliamentary elections, winning 82 percent of the votes cast. However, the military voided the election and imposed martial law.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide’s National Director, Stuart Windsor called for the “immediate and unconditional release” of Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners saying they had “a crucial role to play in the reconstruction of the country.”

The CSW also urged the British government to press the military junta to permit unfettered access by relief workers to those affected by last month’s typhoon in the Irrawaddy delta. “Every hour of inaction or restriction that passes, the more people die. The international community should be prepared to take whatever steps are necessary to help the people of Burma,” he said.

MEPs denounce Burmese referendum as a farce: CEN 5.01.08 p 6. May 1, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Myanmar, Church of England, Church of England Newspaper, Civil Rights, Politics.
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Senior General Than ShweThe European Parliament has denounced Burma’s May 10 constitutional referendum as a farce designed to cement the military junta’s hold on the country.

On April 24 MEPs adopted the non-binding resolution calling for increased sanctions against the country’s military junta. The resolution will be forwarded to the April 28-29 meeting of EU Foreign Ministers in Luxembourg for action. Burma’s “constitutional referendum process is devoid of any democratic legitimacy, as Burmese citizens lack all basic democratic rights that would allow them to hold an open debate on the constitutional text, amend it and subsequently freely express themselves through a referendum,” the MEPs said.

Speaking to the Southern Daily Echo upon his return from Burma following the February installation of the new Anglican Archbishop of Rangoon, the Bishop of Winchester the Rt. Rev Michael Scott-Joynt said the “situation is just as we have read it to be in our newspapers. Burma is a place where the regime is very much in control.”

“There are a lot of people who are very poor and for whom it is a real struggle to get the necessities of life. It is really not a place where any opposition to the regime can flourish,” he observed.

“I have talked to some clergy and it is a very demanding place for everybody and quite a frightening place,” Bishop Scott-Joynt said.

Copies of the 194-page draft constitution were also released for the first time on April 24. Under its proposed terms, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), the formal name of the military junta led by General Than Shwe, will retain power through the set aside for the army of 25 percent of the seats in both houses of Parliament and in state assemblies. Any change to the constitution will requires a greater than 75 percent supermajority-giving the army veto power over the any changes.

The proposed constitution will also ban Nobel laureate and democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi from holding political office as “a person who is entitled to the rights and privileges of a foreign government, or a citizen of a foreign country” may not serve in the government. Suu Kyi’s late husband, Michael Aris, was British.

The leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD), Suu Kyi has been repeatedly place under house arrest since she won the 1990 general elections. The NLD has called for a “no” vote on May 10, but foreign monitors and correspondents have been banned from observing the election, and wide spread fraud is expected.

On March 19, the All Burma Monks Alliance—organizers of last year’s pro-democracy protests in Rangoon—called for a boycott of the referendum, saying religion could not prosper under a military regime that “kills and arrests monks and desecrates religious buildings.”

The military junta “continues to subject the people of Burma to appalling human rights abuses, such as forced labour, persecution of dissidents, conscription of child soldiers and forced relocation,” the European Parliament said last week. It urged the EU foreign ministers to “renew its targeted sanctions, and to broaden them, focusing on restrictions on access to international banking services” and to “campaign actively for a worldwide embargo on arms exports to Burma.”

Burmese elections denounced: CEN 2.13.08 February 13, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Myanmar, Church of England Newspaper, Civil Rights, NGOs, Politics.
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THE SNAP elections announced by the Burmese government have been denounced by Church groups and democracy activists as a ruse to legitimise the military junta’s hold over the country.

“Far from being a positive development, this timetable [for elections] will simply rubber-stamp the authority of this brutal regime,” the Chief Executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) Mervyn Thomas said on Feb 11.

On Feb 9 state radio announced that a referendum would be held in May on a proposed constitution for the “Union of Myanmar”, formally known as Burma, followed by General Elections in 2010.

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper’s Religious Intelligence section.

Burmese elections denounced

Myanmar elects a new primate: CEN 2.01.08 p 6. February 1, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Myanmar, Church of England Newspaper.
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The Church of the Province of Myanmar (Burma) has elected a new Primate and Archbishop of Rangoon.

The Rt. Rev. Stephen Myint Oo Than, Bishop of Hpa’an, was elected from amongst a field of five candidates at a meeting of general synod on Jan 15 at Holy Trinity Cathedral.

Elected Bishop of Hpa’an in 2005, Bishop Myint was educated at Trinity Theological College in Singapore and served as a parish priest before taking up the post of lecturer, then dean of Holy Cross Theological College in Rangoon in 1993.

As Archbishop of Rangoon, he will serve as Primate of the Province and metropolitan of the Church’s five other dioceses: Hpa’an, Toungoo, Mandalay, Myitkyina, and Sittwe. Archbishop Myint will be installed as Archbishop of Rangoon and enthroned as Myanmar’s sixth Anglican Primate on Feb 17 in succession to the current Archbishop, Samuel San Si Htay.

Archbishop Myint is married to Nan Myint Yi and they have three sons: Sa Sai Naw Aye, Sa Sai Luker and Michael Wyne Myat San.

The foundations of the Church of the Province of Myanmar were laid by SPG missionaries who first came out to Burma in 1854. The Diocese of Rangoon was formed in 1877 as part of the Province of Calcutta.

In 1966 the seventh Bishop of Rangoon, the Rt. Rev. Victor G. Shearburn along with all foreign missionaries were expelled by the Burma’s ruling military junta, and Suffragan Bishop Francis Ah Mya became the first ethnic Burmese diocesan bishop. Bishop Mya oversaw the move to independence from the Church of India, Pakistan, Burma and Ceylon and became the first Archbishop of Rangoon and Primate of Burma in 1970.

Tutu attacks golf legend Gary Player over Burma ties: CEN 10.12.07 p 9. October 11, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Myanmar, Anglican Church of Southern Africa, Church of England Newspaper.
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Golfing legend Gary Player should be banned for his ties to the military regime in Burma, Archbishop Desmond Tutu said last week.

Last Sunday, the former Archbishop of Southern Africa and Nobel laureate told the Weekend Argus he backed the call made by imprisoned democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi for a boycott of overseas firms doing business in Burma.

Based in Florida, the Gary Player Group designed and built the Pun Hlaing Golf Club in 1999 on a one-time rice paddy, 45 minutes outside of the capital Rangoon. Democracy activists charge the project violated the 1997 the Clinton Administration ban on new investment by US companies doing business in Burma.

An Oct 2 opinion article by George Monbiot published in the Guardian sated in Burma golf was the sport of the generals “who conduct much of their business on the links” and asked whether the course had been built with forced labour or on land expropriated from peasants.

Player responded that he was “very disappointed” that his “integrity and support for human rights” had been questioned and stated his firm’s involvement in the Burmese project had “been taken entirely out of context.”

The work in Burma began during a thaw in the regime’s relations with democracy activists and it “seemed as though real political change was in the air” the Player Group said in a statement released Oct 8.

Building the golf course was “actually humanitarian” in that it was paid its expenses only and “encouraged the developer to put the money toward creating jobs, as well as the establishment of a caddy and agronomy program” he said.

“Let me make it abundantly clear that I decry in the strongest possible terms the recent events in Burma and wholeheartedly support Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu in his efforts to bring peace and transition to that country,” Player said.

Archbishop Tutu’s push for sanctions against Burma’s military regime has put him at odds with the ANC government of South African Thabo Mbeki. In February while chairing the United Nations Security Council, South Africa voted against a motion brought by Britain to condemn the Burmese generals for their human rights abuses.

Church leaders call for end to Burmese crackdown: CEN 10.12.07 p 9. October 11, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Myanmar, Church of England Newspaper, Church of Sweden, Civil Rights, Roman Catholic Church.
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general-than-shwe.jpgChurch leaders in Burma have pleaded with the leader of the ruling military junta to end the violence against pro-democracy activists.

On Sep 28, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Yangon, Msgr. Charles Bo and the Anglican Primate and president of the Myanmar Council of Churches, Archbishop Samuel San Si Htay wrote to General Than Shwe (pictured) calling for an end to the crackdown of pro-democracy activists.

Burma’s churches were united in prayer for the peace and reconciliation of Burma and “especially praying for the people and the leaders of the country.”

All Christians “greatly desire and are contributing all their best for unity, peace, justice, and the overall development of the country,” the message said. “All the respective leaders of the Churches are also giving proper guidance to the faithful.”

The statement said that “Based on the teachings of the religions on love, truth, righteousness, forgiveness and reconciliation, and considering the current situation of the country, we would like to earnestly appeal to you” that there might be “stability, peace and non-violence, which are also the desire of the people.”

Speaking from his summer residence outside Rome, Pope Benedict XVI said he had been following events in Burma with “great trepidation.”

“I wish to express my spiritual closeness to that dear people in this moment of sorrowful difficulty that they are experiencing” he said on Sept 30 according to the ZENIT news agency, adding that he hoped a “peaceful solution can be found for the good of the country.”

Archbishop Anders Wejryd of the Church of Sweden asked the military regime to honour the safety of the Buddhist monks leading the protests as they “are part of a multi-religious tradition that upholds human life and dignity,” he said.

In a message to pro-democracy activists rallying in Trafalgar Square on Oct 6, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Britain “will not tolerate the abuses that have taken place.”

“I want all the other leaders of the world to work with us, to achieve the progress that all of you people want to achieve in Burma – an end to abuse of human rights,” the statement to the rally said.

“We want the violence to stop against the people of Burma, and we want to move forward with a process of democracy and reconciliation,” the prime minister said.

Church leaders join in call for Burma action: CEN 10.05.07 p 6. October 5, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Myanmar, Anglican Church of Southern Africa, Church of Ceylon, Church of England Newspaper, Civil Rights, Politics.
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Archbishop Samuel San Si Htay of Myanmar (Burma) Photo from Global South Anglican

Church leaders have joined the chorus of support for pro-democracy activists in Burma, adding their voices to the denunciation of the military regime’s crackdown on protesters.

On Friday, Prime Minister Gordon Brown condemned the government’s violent attacks upon unarmed protestors, and called for the international community to intensify diplomatic efforts to bring an end to the crisis. The “word is watching” he said.

In a statement released by Downing Street, Mr. Brown said the protesters had been exercising “great bravery” by protesting peacefully. “I had hoped that the Burmese regime would heed the calls for restraint from the international community.

“But once again they have responded with oppression and force. This must cease,” he said on Sept 28.

The Anglican Primate of Burma, Archbishop Samuel San Si Htay of Rangoon told ENI, “We pray for peace and the future of the country.”

Archbishop Si Htay said a meeting had been planned with the country’s Roman Catholic bishops to forge a common front in response to the week of street protests in Rangoon and Mandalay. The Associated Press reported that on Sept 24 over 100,000 protesters led by Buddhist monks filled the streets of Rangoon staging the largest protest in 20 years to military rule.

The Bishop of Colombo, Duleep de Chickera called upon Burma’s ambassador to Sri Lanka, delivering an open letter deploring the violence. “As a fellow religious leader, I wish to express my solidarity with the commendable leadership provided by the Buddhist monks of Myanmar to this mass agitation.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu on Sept 25 released a statement from Cape Town likening the marches to the non-violent protests against the apartheid regime in South Africa.

“It is so like the rolling mass action that eventually toppled apartheid,” the Nobel laureate said. “We admire our brave sisters and brothers in Burma and want them to know that we support their peaceful protests to end a vicious rule of oppression and injustice.”

Archbishop Tutu, who along with former Czech president Vaclav Havel has led the international campaign to bring Burma before the UN Security Council, called upon the military regime to release jailed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and restore the rule of law.

“Victory is assured. They are on the winning side, the side of freedom, justice and democracy,” Archbishop Tutu said.

On Saturday however, the AP reported Rangoon’s streets were empty, with democracy activists awaiting further international support.

Burmese Action Promised: CEN 9.07.07 p 9. September 7, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Myanmar, British Foreign Policy, Church of England Newspaper.
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Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) and the Burma Campaign UK have called for a national day of prayer on Sept 9 in response to the Rangoon government’s recent crackdown on democracy activists. The British government has also issued a strong protest and called for international action on Burma.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he “deeply deplore[d] the Burmese government’s violent suppression of peaceful demonstrations,” and called upon the government to release “all those detained merely for protesting at the hardship imposed on them by the government’s economic mismanagement and failure to uphold fundamental human rights.”

The Prime Minister’s Sept 2 statement restated the British government’s call for the release of “all political prisoners, including Nobel Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi who has now spent almost 12 years of her life under house arrest.”

The government stated that it would ask the UN Security Council to take up the issue “at the earliest opportunity.” “It is time for the UN human rights bodies to give this alarming situation the attention it so patently deserves,” he said.

CSW reports that hundreds have marched “almost every day since 19 August in protest at the military regime’s decision to raise fuel prices by 500 per cent.”

The peaceful protests had been met with a “brutal crackdown,” it said. “Demonstrators, including women, have been beaten up with iron rods and bamboo sticks by the police and the junta’s proxy mobs. Almost all the leading pro-democracy activists have been detained, and may be sentenced to up to 20 years in jail.”

CSW’s National Director, Stuart Windsor, said “We are calling for Christians around the country to join in a special day of prayer” on Sept 9 “in solidarity with the people of Burma who continue to show extraordinary courage and dignity, risking attack, arrest, torture and even death to protest peacefully at the injustice of the military regime.”