Chris­tians Faced Re­stric­tions On Wor­ship In Myan­mar: Univer­sity Stu­dents’ Case Re­port

Univer­sity stu­dents’ case re­port

The Global Digest (English) - - Contents - By Aung Aung

Chris­tian stu­dents from the Gov­ern­ment Tech­nol­ogy Col­lege of Ka­ley Univer­sity in Myan­mar were strictly re­stricted from wor­ship­ing and the build­ing of a wor­ship cen­ter was pro­hib­ited. The stu­dents are mostly of Chin eth­nic­ity and they are mainly from the Chin state and the Ka­ley Town­ship. In par­tic­u­lar, the eth­nic Chin peo­ple are pre­dom­i­nantly Chris­tian be­liev­ers and ap­prox­i­mately 90% of the Chin State pop­u­la­tion is Chris­tian. As well as this, half of the Ka­ley Town­ship’s pop­u­la­tion is of Chin eth­nic­ity and Chris­tian.

The mil­i­tary rulers in Myan­mar, for­merly known as Burma, pre-dom­i­nantly ad­here to the Bud­dhist re­li­gion and have fre­quently used it to re­strict and op­press Chris­tian­ity in the coun­try.

Orig­i­nal plan of lo­cat­ing univer­sity was in Chin State as its quota. But later, as is the na­ture of the junta - with­out pub­lic con­sent or rule by de­cree - they re­versed the move back of univer­sity con­struc­tion to the Ka­ley Town­ship in Sa­gaing Divi­sion. Since the Chin State is the only state in Myan­mar which has no Univer­sity the Chin stu­dents sub­se­quently had to go to other states for study­ing, such as to Ka­ley Univer­sity, Pakokku Univer­sity, Man­dalay Univer­sity and so on.

Ka­ley Univer­sity branch, Gov­ern­ment Tech­nol­ogy Col­lege, is a few miles from Ka­ley town and the col­lege has no churches or wor­ship cen­ters for Chris­tian stu­dents nearby. So the stu­dents had to take turns wor­ship­ing in dif­fer­ent pri­vate houses or in rented stu­dent houses un­der dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances. Th­ese cir­cum­stances have per­sisted since 2003 and con­tinue now.

Un­ex­pect­edly, on June 06 2005, at the stu­dents wor­ship place in a pri­vate house, the house owner was asked to stop and not to al­low the stu­dents to wor­ship there. The informer was an un­known per­son and it was later re­ported to be a per­son who be­longed to an ex­trem­ist Bud­dhist or­ga­ni­za­tion called the Ka­ley Town­ship Bud­dhist’s As­so­ci­a­tion (Gaw­pa­gah As­so­ci­a­tion). Re­gard­ing this mat­ter, the stu­dents met with the lo­cal vil­lage head and the col­lege Prin­ci­ple, but they didn’t pay any at­ten­tion and ig­nored them. The rea­son for this is that

the col­lege ad­min­is­tra­tors them­selves are also Bud­dhists and of Bur­man eth­nic­ity too.

Fur­ther­more, the stu­dents asked Ka­ley Town­ship Peace and De­vel­op­ment Coun­cil to give them per­mis­sion to wor­ship sev­eral times but the of­fi­cers were re­luc­tant to give per­mis­sion and made no re­sponse un­til 2007. Due to the pres­sure and threats from the author­i­ties, even the one who used to al­low wor­ship in their pri­vate house stopped al­low­ing the stu­dents to wor­ship there. The stu­dents were un­der ter­ri­ble cir­cum­stances try­ing to find some­where to wor­ship.

It was no longer pos­si­ble to rent a pri­vate house for wor­ship nearby the col­lege. So, the stu­dents fi­nally de­cided to build their own cen­ter for wor­ship and for other pur­poses. Since church build­ing is strongly pro­hib­ited they thought the cen­ter might be the best op­tion. But, even to get per­mis­sion to build a cen­ter as a Chris­tian group was re­stricted. They were asked to show things such as the build­ing blueprint, build­ing size, and the es­ti­mated ex­penses and so on, in or­der to pre­vent them build­ing the church.

How­ever, af­ter not too long the build­ing started in 2007, un­til the lo­cal author­ity, U Thein Win re­voked the per­mis­sion to build. Mean­while, a let­ter was is­sued ban­ning the build­ing con­struc­tion with­out any rea­son, and fur­ther threats were made to the ef­fect that who­ever con­tin­ues with the con­struc­tion would be pun­ished. In the same year, the Ka­ley Town­ship Peace and De­vel­op­ment Coun­cil’s Chair­man, U Ko Latt also or­dered a pro­hi­bi­tion let­ter against the build­ing. They made no fur­ther ex­pla­na­tion. Their in­ten­tion was to tar­get Chris­tian stu­dents and pre­vent them from wor­ship­ing.

In­stead of help­ing stu­dents, Ka­ley Town­ship Peace and De­vel­op­ment Coun­cil’s chair­man, U Ko Latt called pri­vate house own­ers on Septem­ber 8, 2007, and or­dered them to stop wor­ship ser­vices made by the stu­dents. Also, he threat­ened that house own­ers would face pun­ish­ment if they fur­ther al­lowed wor­ship ser­vices, say­ing he would is­sue or­ders to lock their houses and lands as well as ex­pel them from Bud­dhism. It is clear that the author­i­ties in­ter­fered in reli­gious prac­tice.

Fur­ther­more, he even or­dered a sign­board to be pulled down on which was just writ­ten “Taungza­lat,” which means rhodo­den­dron, which is pop­u­larly grown in the Chin state and is ad­mired by the eth­nic Chin peo­ple as their sym­bol. De­stroy­ing the “Taungza­lat” sign­board is a kind of sym­bolic as­sault on eth­nic Chin peo­ple de­lib­er­ately. He con­tin­ued, “This is not Chin state, it is Sa­gaing Divi­sion, do you not know that?” Since ev­ery­body knows that the mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment didn’t pro­vide a sin­gle univer­sity in the Chin state, when com­pared to other coun­tries, each and ev­ery prov­ince and city has at least a univer­sity or a col­lege. How­ever, the Chin, is the only state in Myan­mar which doesn’t have a univer­sity. It’s widely known that the na­ture of the Myan­mar mil­i­tary is that they re­ally are not con­cerned about pub­lic so­cial wel­fare or ed­u­ca­tion.

More­over, U Ko Latt pro­voked the vil­lagers into oc­cu­py­ing all the prop­er­ties, and to dam­age the build­ing con­structed by the stu­dents. This is an of­fense. With the back­ing of the author­i­ties, the ex­trem­ist group came and de­stroyed the build­ing con­struc­tion on Oc­to­ber 31, 2009 at night.

Ac­cord­ing to Uni­ver­sal Dec­la­ra­tion of Hu­man Rights, in Ar­ti­cle 18 “Ev­ery­one has the right to free­dom of thought, con­science and re­li­gion; this right in­cludes free­dom to change his re­li­gion or be­lief, and free­dom, either alone or in com­mu­nity with oth­ers and in pub­lic or pri­vate, to man­i­fest his re­li­gion or be­lief in teach­ing, prac­tice, wor­ship and ob­ser­vance.”

Not only in Sa­gaing divi­sion, but even in the Chin state, which is called a Chris­tian state in Myan­mar, the rights to Chris­tian free­dom were and are be­ing vi­o­lated. Many church build­ings were pro­hib­ited, many crosses were abol­ished and pas­tors were forced to go pot­ter­ing.

Due to the Bud­dhist do­main and the mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment’s at­ti­tude there has been a con­stant con­flict with Chris­tian armed groups for sev­eral decades such as the Karen Na­tional Union and Kachin In­de­pen­dent Army and other Chris­tian eth­nics.

Myan­mar is a mem­ber of the United Na­tions and has al­ready an­nounced a com­mit­ment to de­velop democ­racy in the coun­try. It is im­por­tant to al­low free­dom of re­li­gion and free­dom of wor­ship as th­ese are fun­da­men­tal rights of Chris­tian in­hab­i­tants in the Chin state and the whole coun­try.

Con­fisi­cated on go­ing Univer­sity stu­dents’ Church con­struc­tion

Ian Robert J. Au­jero is from the US. He has a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in mu­sic the­ory & lit­er­a­ture, and a master’s de­gree in Chris­tian ed­u­ca­tion. He is cur­rently teach­ing at Sahm Yook Univer­sity. He is also an As­so­ciate Editor at the Global Di­gest mag­a­zine.

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