Myanmar Religious Groups Say They Face Persecution

By Tommy Walker

FILE - A Karen woman holds up a hymn book during Christian mass gathering, Umphang, Thailand, May 23, 2021.

Myanmar’s military is cracking down on religious groups that refuse to accept military rule, religious leaders say.

Nearly 88% of Myanmar’s population identify themselves as Buddhist, with other religious denominations, such as Christians, Muslims, and Hindus, making up the rest. Seemingly all of the country’s religious groups are being caught up in the fallout from the military coup.

In the nine months since the military-run State Administrative Council ousted the democratically elected government, fighting has continued between military forces and anti-coup opposition.

A military offensive aimed at targeting an ethnic armed group in Chin state in western Myanmar killed civilians and destroyed religious buildings at the end of October, according to local sources. More than 90% of Chin state’s population is Christian, according to the Chin Human Rights Organization.

Military spokesman Zaw Min Tun denied to local reporters that buildings were specifically targeted.

The Burma Human Rights Network, a local group, condemned the attacks in a statement Monday, saying the junta has a long history of targeting religious minorities.

Fires burn in the town of Thantlang in Myanmar's northwestern state of Chin, Oct. 29, 2021. More than 160 buildings in the town in the northwestern Myanmar, including three churches, have been destroyed by shelling by government troops.

Buddhist monks, Muslims, and Christians have all taken to the streets and demonstrated against the military takeover. Religious figures in the country say military action has had a chilling effect on religious groups.

Sister Francisca, formerly a nun at a Catholic church in Mandalay, described how soldiers ordered her church not to participate in anti-coup protests.

"The military went and told the cardinal and leaders, don't get involved in the revolution,” she said.

She added that soldiers had refused to allow her community to carry out daily charitable tasks, including treating COVID-19 patients. She recounted to VOA this week how armed soldiers had threatened to shoot her and others sitting in front of her house unless they went inside.

She also described an incident in which she said a neighborhood man was shot by soldiers.

At night, she said, local people do guard duty but, she said, soldiers shoot the guards one of them was shot in the lung.

“Fortunately, he survived. We stay afraid all the time,” she said.

She ultimately fled to another city. Although she found another Christian church there, it was already occupied by soldiers and she remains on the run.

Thet Swe Win, founder of Synergy, an organization promoting interfaith efforts in Myanmar, told VOA by phone that several religious groups have been targeted by the military, including Buddhists. Unlike other religions, though only the Buddhists who oppose the coup face military pressure. He estimates around 80% of Myanmar's Buddhists oppose the junta.

He said the military has branded monks who refuse to accept junta rule as “fake” before beating and arresting them.

In this undated photo provided to The Associated Press in September 2021, mo