Burmese Baptist Convention Banned on Orders of Junta

Wednesday, April 10, 2002

A three-day Baptist convention for 100,000 people, which was due to be held in Burma, has been cancelled on the orders of the junta.

General Maung Aye, Commander-in-Chief of the Burmese army, ordered the Kachin Baptist Church (KBC) to cancel its 34th convention during which they would have elected their leaders.

This is the third time the regime has cancelled the event since seizing power in 1962.

The Christian community of the north eastern Kachin State had planned to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the arrival of the first Christian missionary to Burma, Ola Hansen, and the 75th anniversary of the translation of the Bible into the Kachin language.

The convention, held every three years, was due to start on April 4 in the Muse township in Shan State, in the north east of Burma. Christians from all over the country were expected to attend.

Permission to hold the event had been granted by both the northern Shan State regional commander and the head of the Military Intelligence Service, First Secretary Lt. General Khin Nyunt.

Local sources suspect that the sudden change in policy is part of an ongoing power struggle between the junta's top leaders, General Maung Aye and Lt. General Khin Nyunt.

At least 80 percent of the population in the Kachin state in north eastern Burma are Christians. They suffer religious persecution and oppression from the military regime.

The authorities monitor all Christian activities, ban the construction of new churches and prohibit the printing of Christian materials. Christians are also periodically forced to 'donate' money to Buddhist festivals.

For the past two years, the United States' Department of State has designated Burma as a 'Country of Particular Concern' for violating religious freedom.

The 1974 Constitution of Burma stipulates that the 'national race shall enjoy the freedom to profess their religion provided that the enjoyment of any such freedom does not offend the laws or the public interest'.

In practice, however, the Burmese junta closely monitors and restricts the organisation and expression of all religions, including Buddhism.

This is partly because Buddhist clergy and religious minorities have in the past been politically active and partly because the regime views religious freedom in the context of threats to national unity.

Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of CSW, said: "The ban on the Kachin Baptist convention highlights the ongoing restrictions on religious freedom.

"The junta, in order to hold onto power, cracks down on different religious groups in its bid to enforce its own single Burmese culture. By restricting the freedom of worship and making its citizens conform to the predominantly Buddhist Burmese culture, the regime is systematically destroying the cultural identity of many ethnic groups, most of them Christians or Muslims."

For more information or background pictures contact Richard Chilvers at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on 020 8949 0587 or 020 8942 8810 or email richard.chilvers@csw.org.uk