Christians Faced Restrictions On Worship In Myanmar: University Students’ Case Report
University students’ case report
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.