Brother of Slain Myanmar Pastor Says Regime Fails to Take Accountability for Atrocities

By The Irrawaddy 23 September 2021

When junta forces launched heavy artillery strikes on his hometown in western Myanmar’s Chin State on Saturday afternoon, setting fire to many houses, Christian Pastor Cung Biak Hum couldn’t stand still—he felt compelled to try to save his town.

He organized a group of young men to go out and help extinguish the blaze. The 30-year-old ethnic Chin jumped on his motorbike, but never made it to the scene.

He was killed on the way by junta soldiers, witnesses said. And the blaze that he tried to help put out burned down around 20 structures, including homes and a government building to whose construction Myanmar’s detained vice president, Henry Van Thio, who is also ethnic Chin, contributed.

Pastor Cung Biak Hum was shot dead while on the way to help put out a fire that burned down scores of homes.

A friend of the pastor who was among the group said the troops opened fire on them when they reached a junction. Initially it seemed the pastor was able to get away, but in fact he was shot dead on the roadside; his body and motorbike were found not far away, the friend said.

The killing happened after a firefight between junta forces and local civilian resistance fighters who have taken up arms against the military regime in the hill town of Thantlang. A combined force of the Chinland Defense Force-Thantlang (CDF-T) and Chin National Army (CNA) claimed that over 30 junta troops were killed during the clash with no casualties on civilian forces’ side.

After sustaining a large number of casualties, junta forces randomly opened fire on the residential area of the town using heavy weapons and explosives.

“When we went there, the clashes were over. But the military opened fire and killed him,” said the pastor’s friend, who requested anonymity for security reasons.

It took around two hours to retrieve the body from the street, as the junta soldiers remained in the area, randomly shooting at people.

When they finally reached the pastor’s body, it bore two gunshots in the chest and neck area, the friend said. Soldiers had also cut off the pastor’s ring finger and stolen his wedding ring, along with other belongings: his watch and mobile phone were also stolen.

“They killed him and also even stole his wedding ring. I despise them for their brutality,” said the friend, who had grown up with the pastor since childhood.

Cung Biak Hum, who became the first pastor to be killed in Chin State by junta soldiers, was cherished by the whole town, which is predominantly Christian. His grandfather was the first pastor of the Thantlang Bapist Church, and there are two more pastors in his immediate family. An alumnus of Tedim Christian College in Yangon, Cung Biak Hum was studying in a master’s degree program at the Myanmar Institute of Theology and led the Thantlang Centenary Baptist Church (TCBC) in the town.

Pastor Cung Biak Hum and his family.

Locals said he was the pride of the town as a passionate youth leader who was active in helping in the social affairs of the community, and was not only accomplished academically but also had many other talents.

He is survived by his two young sons, 11 and 7, and his pregnant wife, who is a striking government employee from the town’s municipal department participating in the civil disobedience movement against the Feb. 1 coup that toppled the elected civilian government. Their unborn child is due to be born in November.

At the funeral service held for him on Sunday morning, the pastor’s younger son cried over his father’s corpse and asked, “Why did they shoot my father when he committed no sin? For what did they kill my dad?”

Baptist groups in Myanmar’s Chin State and Kachin State—the Chin Baptist Convention (CBC) and Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC)—strongly condemned the killing of the pastor as “shocking and horrible”.

The groups also called out the actions of the junta troops in Chin State as “barbaric and unacceptable”. The state has seen an upsurge in violence, raids and bombings of civilian homes and buildings, and the destruction of churches. In Thantlang, junta troops have attacked civilian targets since late August, killing three including a 10-year-old boy and injuring a number of other civilians.

Junta spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun disputed the report of the killing of the pastor and the looting of belongings from the corpse as a “one-sided accusation”. He said the death was being investigated, adding that soldiers had been ambushed by some 100 “terrorists”—referring to civilian fighters—taking up positions in urban areas and houses during their patrols on Saturday afternoon.

The local defense forces in Chin State released a statement condemning the junta troops’ killing of the pastor, the shelling of civilians homes and the random shooting.

Stanley Cung, the eldest brother of the pastor, said the military spokesman’s statement failed to take accountability for the killing by the “terrorist army”.

The shelling of the town, followed by random shooting into homes over the weekend and the inhumane killing of the pastor terrorized Thantlang. Almost the entire town, which had a population of around 10,000, has fled to neighboring villages or Mizoram in India. Fewer than 30 residents, including senior citizens and those sick with COVID-19, remain in the town.

Thantlang is seen before (left) and after (right) almost the entire population fled the town.

The pastor’s family is also among those on the run. They had to flee as soon as they arrived back home from the funeral as a heavy force of around 400 soldiers took over the town.

“We feel indescribable pain and indignance at the brutal shooting of the pastor and assaults on our town. They must be expelled as soon as possible,” said a youth who is assisting fleeing residents.

The killing of the pastor is just the latest example of the junta’s daily brutal killings and extreme violence across the country in an attempt to oppress resistance to its rule.

The junta has committed numerous abuses against the population including willful killing, torture of unarmed civilians and the intentional, excessive use of force amounting to war crimes since the coup.

As of Wednesday, at least 1,120 civilians had been killed, according to the most recent list from rights group the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

Stanley Cung, who currently resides in the United States where he is pursuing a PhD in Intercultural Studies, urged the world to pay closer attention and act as soon as possible, as the people of Myanmar have already faced tremendous suffering over the past seven months.

“Even if they just wait and watch, we, the people of Myanmar, will continue this fight [against the regime] till achieving the change that we want,” he said.

Regarding the death of his younger brother, Stanley Cung said he is proud of his brother for what he did, as he gave his life for the people, whom the family loved and valued.

“I will be satisfied if his death not in vain and could help in bringing changes for our country.”

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