Burma Among Worst For Religious Freedom: Report

By Charlie Campbell 29 March 2012

Burma has been declared one of the world’s worst countries for religious freedom as reports emerge of places of worship being savagely vandalized by government troops.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released its 2012 Annual Report on Tuesday which includes Burma on its list of “countries of particular concern” (CPCs) just as incidents of bibles being burnt and Christian gatherings being disrupted emerge in Kachin and Chin states.

“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.”

Burmese government troops reportedly ransacked Sin Lum Pang Mu Baptist Church in Pang Mu village, Bhamo District, Kachin State, on March 13, with bibles burned and widespread looting.

Rev. Jangmaw Gam Maw, the pastor of Pang Mu Church, claims soldiers from 33rd Battalion of 88th Infantry Division burned bibles, destroyed church property and stole a video player, loudspeakers and belongings of local people, as well as cash from donation boxes.

The soldiers claimed that the church was a Kachin Independence Army outpost. The pastor and more than 1,000 parishioners had recently returned after abandoning the village on Nov. 19 last year to join Mai Ja Yang refugee camp.

On March 10, Burmese government troops disrupted a Christian conference and threatened a Member of Parliament at gunpoint in southern Chin State, according to the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO).

More than 1,000 delegates from 80 local branches of the Mara (Chin) Evangelical Church at Sabawngte village, Matupi Township, had gathered for the conference which had official permission.

The CHRO reported that several Burmese soldiers disrupted the meeting and rebuked the village headman for not informing the army camp about the event. Pu Van Cin, an MP from the Ethnic National Development Party, was threatened at gunpoint when he intervened to stop soldiers confronting the village chief.

Benedict Rogers, the East Asia team leader at Christian Solidarity Worldwide, said, “These incidents illustrate that there is still a very long way to go in Burma’s reform process, and for that reason, the international community should be cautious about lifting too many sanctions too quickly.

“We have seen very welcome progress in Burma at some levels in recent months, but the [Burmese army] continues to perpetrate grave violations of human rights in the ethnic areas, which include religious discrimination and persecution of minorities.”

The other nations included on USCIRF list of CPCs were China, Egypt, Eritrea, Iraq, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.