Freedom of Belief



The majority of Burma is Buddhist, since the majority of the population is Burman. The military regime associates itself, also for reasons of historical value, with the majority Buddhist religion and also seeks to control it.


During 1990-91, nine Buddhist sects were formed under direct SLORC control after dissolving other Buddhist orders. In the 1988 uprisings, radical monks played an important part of supporting the students demonstrations early on. Numerous monks were forcibly disrobed, gaoled, or killed by army troops. This sort of treatment and disregard for religion continues today, having spread to Buddhists only recently, while having affected other religious groups in Burma for decades out of fear they were involve with ethnic insurgencies and therefore singled out and suffered harassment bat the hands of the military.


The Rangoon authorities have recently issued an order to the Muslim community there that the government needed the burial grounds of Muslims in Rangoon for the development of the city. Under the circumstances, three main cemeteries belonging to the Islamic faith, namely Tamwe, Kandawgale and Hanthwaddy graveyards, which are located within the vicinity of downtown Rangoon, will be closed for burial and the Muslim community. It may be mentioned here that Tamwe Graveyard is more than a century old and there is a mosque and a madarasa within the compound. Besides, the mortal remains of U Razzak, one of the national martyrs, and Yebaw Ko Htwe, who were assassinated along with national hero Gen Aung San, were buried in this cemetery.


The Burmese military junta had earlier confiscated Muslim graveyards, orphanages, residential building for aged Muslims, including a mosque in Mandalay, and leading members looking after the trust properties were put behind the bar when they protested.


Muslim girls in Arakan State were summoned by SLORC Border Supervising Committee and forced to attend compulsory vocational training programmes in nursing and tailoring which are run by SLORC, covering their own expenses. After the training, they were sent to different SLORC outposts and forced to sew uniforms for the troops. Some of them were forced to marry the soldiers under the patronage of the Supervising Committee.


Christians have also been heavily affected by the “Buddhafication” of the whole of Burma. Military officers have forced villagers mainly in Falam and Tedim townships in Chin State to build pagodas on hill-tops, after removing crosses on churches. Most of the Chin villagers in these areas are Christian. This started about 3 years ago and is still going on now, and it is reportedly SLORC IB 89 involved. The reason many villagers are fleeing the area is to escape the forced labour, as well as to keep their faith and customs despite the SLORC pressure to “Burmanise”. In all non-Buddhist, non-Burman areas, the military continues to define what is “Myanmar”, by destroying places of religious worship, of religious burials (Buddhists usually burn the bodies of their dead), and forbid or obstruct worship ceremonies.


Examples also show that religious activities, however, whether they be Buddhist or not, are always secondary to SLORC rules and needs. Forced labour is demanded on even Buddhist religious holidays; monks are forcibly disrobed and shown disrespect by troops, etc. Recent tensions within the KNU were manipulated by SLORC and turned into a “internal religious conflict” in the media, when in reality tensions involved KNLA leadership and rank and file dissatisfaction. Buddhist monks trying to mediate the situation were even taken hostage by the SLORC-sponsored DKBA, and a Buddhist monk who preached agitation against Christians is now organising and leading military actions in the Manerplaw and Kawmooora regions. Clearly, SLORC has little respect for any religions and manipulates or abuses the beliefs of all peoples for their own ends of maintaining a firm grip on the country’s power.


 [see also under “Eye-witness Accounts”, interview 25, 27, 109, 113]


List of Incidents


Labourers estimate that in January, about 1500 local people living in 5 quarters and over 150 villages in Kalay township were forced to work. Local people in Kalay were very disappointed with the SLORC regime because they cannot celebrate their religious ceremonies, and instead are facing high prices of basic commodities, frequent demands for labour and various kinds of “fees”.


On 16 March, tombs from Muslim cemetery in Kawthaung were destroyed by SLORC. Muslim leaders there were summoned by SLORC and faced harassment for transmitting the information to the international community that tombs from Muslim cemetery were uprooted by SLORC. [FTUB]


On the morning of 29 April, SLORC troops arrested a Buddhist novice who was on his way from the village to Pang Torng Monastery; his "crime" was carrying a knife and paying no respect to the soldiers, despite that the novice was in a religious order and deserves respect as such. [source: SHRF]


On 5 June, SLORC soldiers armed with automatic rifles supervised the demolition of a mosque in Thingan Nyi Naung, about 19 kilometres west of Myawaddy, Karen State, to make way for expansion of a road despite Muslim community pleas to save the building. This destruction raised fears in the Muslim community that other mosques along the road would be pulled down. Although Muslims in Thingan Nyi Naung appealed to both local and national authorities in a futile attempt to save the 70-year-old mosque, they were totally ignored by SLORC.


On 29 June, SLORC Strategic Command in Buthidaung Township sent about 150 troops to the southern part of the town. These troops based at an Islamic school and committed harassing the local people. Shafi Rahman (25, son of Noor Ahmed) and Mohammed Ayas (28, son of Ali Hossein) from Pon Nyo lake village were arrested, killed and buried in a mass grave near Nyaunchaung Village. 300 Muslims have been killed in Arakan State by SLORC since January 1994 while another 3,000 were imprisoned. In June alone at least 150 civilians were shot dead in cold blood by SLORC forces. [source: MOA]


On 6 July, MIS 18 visited Kazirbil Village, 36 km north of Maungdaw and arrested Habiullah (son of Bahadoor), Abu Bakker (son of Abdul Habi), Hasibullah (son of Syedur Rahman, ex-village chairman), Moulvi Abdul Ali (son of Abdul Rahim), Moulvi Abul Kalam, and Hossein – for alleged contact with anti-SLORC forces. Their fates are unknown. [source: MOA]


On 14 September, at 2:00 p.m., SLORC troops from IB 62 led by Bn Comdr Ohn Myint arrived at Kaw Pa Lai Village, Kyaikmaraw Township, arrested the abbot there without any reason, forced him to disrobe and beat him until he lost consciousness. [source: DPNS/NLD-LA]


On 20 December, a platoon from the Homelin-based IB 222 reached Kon Kai Lon Village, Lae Shi Township, Sagaing Division. They put a gun to Pastor Maung Hlaing’s temple and demanded he convert to Buddhism. Whenever the platoon commander harassed the victim, the victim responded that he could not convert his religion to another one. The pastor responded that he believes in Christ with all his heart and soul and he will be a Christian for the rest of his life. U Maung Hlaing was a pastor who graduated Bachelor of Divinity at Insein. The victim was also ordered to destroy the church and build a pagoda instead. Moreover, the pastor was told that the whole village will gain privileges if they become Buddhists. The platoon commander further threatened him that if the whole village does not worship Buddhism, all the villagers will be in trouble. Such events of religious persecution occur at every village in Naga areas. [source: NLD-LA]