10. The Freedom of Belief and Religion
While the majority of Burma’s population follows Theravada Buddhism, there are significant numbers of Christians (mostly Baptists as well as some Catholics and Anglicans), Muslims (mostly Sunni), Hindus and practitioners of traditional Chinese and indigenous religions. Government statistics record that almost 90 percent of the population are Buddhist, 4 percent Christian and 4 percent Muslim; however these statistics most likely understate the percentage of adherents to religions other than Buddhism. In Burma, there is some correlation between ethnicity and religion, with Theravada Buddhism serving as the dominant religion among the majority Burman ethnic group and among the Shan and Mon ethnic minorities of the eastern part of the country. The Kachin ethnic group in Northern Burma and the Chin and Naga ethnic groups in the west (some of which practice traditional indigenous religions) are largely Christian and Christianity is also is widespread among the Karen and Karenni ethnic groups in the south and east. Other Karen and Karenni are Theravada Buddhists. Hinduism is practiced by Indians, for the most part Tamils and Bengalis, the majority of whom live in larger cities and in the south-central region (though a number of Tamils are Catholic). Islam is widespread in Arakan Division on the western coast, where it is the main religion of the Rohingya minority. Many Indians and Bengalis along with their descendants are also Muslims. A small Chinese ethnic population practices traditional Chinese religions. Traditional indigenous religions remain prevalent among the smaller ethnic groups in the northern regions.
The US Secretary of State has designated Burma as a "country of particular concern" under the International Religious Freedom Act for acute violations of religious freedom since 1999. According to the US Department of State Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 2002, there remained minimal respect of religious freedom in Burma. The 1974 Constitution indicates that freedom of religion should be granted to members of the national races as long as their activities do not interfere or disturb existing laws or public interest. Burma does not have an official religion, but the SPDC shows favoritism towards Theravada Buddhism. As the minority religions are associated with ethnic minority groups connected with opposition groups, the SPDC often considers religious freedom as a danger to national unity. As a result, the SPDC keeps all organizations, including religious organizations, under a watchful eye by entering or monitoring meetings. All organizations must register with the Ministry of Home Affairs with the approval of the Ministry for Religious Affairs, except for "genuine" religious organizations. In order to buy or sell property or maintain a bank account, an organization must be registered. Therefore most are compelled to do so. In addition, registered organizations may also receive assistance from the government towards electric and utility services. (Source: US Department of Sate)
The SPDC established rules for the proper code and conduct of Buddhist clergy and bans any involvement with political activism or the promotion of human rights. The SPDC has forcibly converted Christians and Muslims, the minority religions and mostly minority ethnicities, to Buddhism. The SPDC does not allow Muslims to build new mosques or to make repairs on the exteriors of existing mosques. Christians must gain permission from many different government levels in order to build new churches. The SPDC has been reported to destroy religious buildings of minority religions and construct Buddhist temples or military buildings in their place. The SPDC has also included Buddhist codes of belief in the state authorized curriculum of all elementary schools. While students are allowed to choose not to partake in Buddhist instruction, the SPDC often punishes those who don’t. (Source: US Department of State)
10.2 Religious Discrimination against Christians
A recent study by Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports that new laws in Burma have been enacted to restrict Christians’ right to freedom of worship. Through these new laws the SPDC has attempted to force the closure of all churches under one hundred years old, sent priests into hiding, and banned the construction of new church buildings. In some parts of Burma it is also illegal to hold church services in private homes. (Source: Asian Legal Resource Center)
Government regulations prohibit Christian clergy from attempting to proselytize in some areas and there is at least one report of a clergy member being beaten to discourage him from proselytizing. The Government has a general policy of prohibiting permanent foreign religious missions to operate in Burma. This policy has been in place since almost all foreign missionaries were expelled by the government in the mid-1960s when time all private schools and hospitals, the majority of which were affiliated with Christian organizations, were nationalized. Following the take-over of these institutions no compensation was offered to those who had previously run them. Some Christian theological seminaries established before 1962 do continue to operate.
In recent years it has become increasingly difficult for Christian groups to obtain government permission to build new places of worship. In some areas of Chin State it has been reported that authorities have not given permits for the construction of new churches since 1997. In cities such as Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State, the SPDC has also refused to allow churches to be built on main roads; in Rangoon they have mandated that some Christian groups refer to their places of worship as "social centers" rather than "churches." (Source: US Department of State) Only after paying a large amount of bribe money to lower level township or district authorities, are Christians allowed to repair, expand, or build places of worship. In addition, Christian sermons were reportedly subjected to censorship. (Source: CHRO)
There are numerous other ways in which the military government has attempted to prevent Burmese Christians from practicing their religion. Army units frequently destroy churches and Christian graveyards to build their camps. It has been frequently reported that Chin Christians are forced to assist the SPDC in these projects. Sometimes churches are not destroyed but instead taken over by the SPDC to be used as military bases, an act that is perceived as desecration of a holy place by local Christians. Since the early 1990’s, military authorities have taken down or forced villagers to remove all crosses standing outside Chin Christian villages. In many cases the government has replaced the crosses with Buddhist pagodas, sometimes forcing resident Christians to provide the labor to construct them. As part of a larger campaign to "Burmanize" the Chin, the SPDC has greatly increased their military presence in Chin State and other majority Chin areas. They have also sponsored and encouraged Burman Buddhist monks to emigrate from other areas and built Buddhist monasteries and shrines in Chin communities with few or no Buddhists, frequently requiring the residents to contribute forced "donations" of money or labor.
On 20 November 2002, it was reported that the Burmese military chose Lentlang in Tiddim Township, a small Christian village in northern Chin State, as the site for a new Buddhist pagoda. The area is predominantly Christian and the SPDC is building the pagoda as part of their program to spread Buddhism to Christian areas. The SPDC is forcing all trade and commercial vehicles on route to India to provide labor for the building project by transporting bricks, sand and other building materials. The trucks transport the materials from Haimual, Rhkhawdar and Malsawm villages to Lentlang without compensation. (Source: CHRO)
In their efforts to encourage Chin Christians to convert to Buddhism the government has resorted to using a carrot-and-stick approach. Christians that convert to Buddhism are promised monthly payments and Buddhists are able to take advantage of reduced price rice supplied by the government, free food distributed on Sunday mornings when Christians are in church, and exemption from forced labor. It has also been reported that SPDC soldiers stationed in Chin State were given a higher rank and pay if they married a Chin women who would convert to Buddhism.
To punish those who refuse to convert, authorities frequently disrupt church services and celebrations and force Christians to clean and repair Buddhist shrines. Christians are also ordered to attend sermons where Christianity is disparaged or are made to join training courses for Buddhist monks, after which they are pressured to convert. In addition there have been reported incidences when Christian children have been taken from their families, under the pretext of receiving a secular education, and then converted to Buddhism without the knowledge or consent of their parents. There have also been credible reports that in Pa’an Township in Karen State army units routinely conscript young men leaving Sunday church services for forced portering, causing young men to avoid church attendance. Throughout 2001 there were continued reports that Chins were taken for forced portering by the military, both in Chin State and Sagaing Division (see chapter on forced labor).
Another Christian minority group is the 20,000 ethnic Naga Christians who live in northwest Burma on the border with the Indian state of Nagaland. (Source: AFP) While there is less information available about the situation of Naga Christians, there have been reports that indicate that they suffer many of the same restrictions on their freedom of religion as the Chin. In 1999 it was reported that more than 1,000 Naga Christians fled to India to escape from religious persecution. These refugees reported that they were being pressured to convert to Buddhism by the military and by local monks and that the churches in their villages had been shut down by the government and then desecrated (Source: US Department of State)
Persecution of Christians-partial list of incidents
Restrictions on Kayah State Baptists’ Convention
Baptists from Kayah State hold their annual convention every year in March. In 2002 they wanted to hold the meeting at Htee Tamoh village. However, the authorities did not give them permission to hold the meeting in March as usual. Instead the authorities ordered them to hold the meeting between 13 -18 February and forbid them from telling anyone that they were attending a religious meeting. They had to say that they were going to church to worship. (KNAHR)
Junta Coerces Chin Christians to Pull Down Cross
In March 2002, Major General Ye Myint, Chief of the Bureau of Special Operations, visited Matupi in southern Chin State. He was offended by a 30 ft high cross that stood 1 mile south of the town. As a result the town was pressured to remove the cross. The SPDC closed down humanitarian and development projects run by the Matupi Baptist Association (MBA) including a water supply improvement project. Although the MBA had obtained support from the Japanese Embassy in Rangoon to complete the projects, the SPDC would not allow them to receive the water pipes that were being shipped from Mandalay until the cross was removed. (Source: CHRO)
Concurrently, in Matupi 200 Christian households, who had already paid 8,500 Kyats in telephone connection fees, were denied telephone connections in their homes. The authorities indicated that their telephone lines would be connected once the cross was removed. (Source: CHRO)
Burmese Baptist Convention Banned on Orders of Junta
On 4 April 2002, the Kachin Baptist Church (KBC) planned to commence its 34th 3 day convention in Muse Township, Shan State. General Maung Aye, the commander in Chief of the Burmese military, ordered the convention to be cancelled. This overturned the permission to hold the event which had been previously granted by the northern Shan State regional commander and First Secretary Lt. General Khin Nyunt, head of the military intelligence. The KBC had intended to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the arrival of Ola Hansen the first missionary to Kachin State, as well as the 75th anniversary of the translation of the bible into the Kachin language. 100,000 people from across Burma were expected to attend the convention, in which elections for the church leaders would be held. This was the third instance of the event being cancelled by the military since 1962. (Source: Christian Solidarity Worldwide)
Burma’s Junta Arrested Two Prominent Chin Christian Ministers
On 5 April 2002, Rev. Htat Gyi/That Ci and his son-in-law Pastor Lian Za Dal alias Saya Tun Lin, two prominent Chin Christian ministers, were arrested by local officials in Rangoon for not registering guests. Rev. Htat Gyi’s daughter and his son-in-law had come to visit and earlier in the evening he had gone to the Block Peace and Development Council office to register them as guests in his home. The local authorities informed him that his request would be reviewed and the Township authority would inform him as to whether or not he was permitted to have guests. At midnight the police raided his home and arrested all the family members for not registering their guests. It was reported that during interrogation the police asked Rev. Htat Gyi if he would stop holding church services. The Rev. Htat Gyi is well known among Christians and Buddhists alike for his sermons. Buddhists often attend his services. While he has been warned by the local authorities not to construct churches in the local area, he has ignored their warnings in the belief that he is not a threat to the stability of the state. Rev. Htat Gyi and Pastor Lian Za Dal were sent to Insein Prison on 8 April 2002. (Source: CHRO)
Konnah Baptist Church Banned from Building New Church
On 7 December 2002, the Loikaw Township military authorities banned the Konnah Baptist church from building a new church after the church had already gathered construction materials. The church had spent 50 million kyat on the construction materials. Some said this ban was part of the Burmese military’s restriction on religion. (KNAHR)
10.3 Religious Discrimination against Muslims
According to the US Department of State, 4% of the population of Burma practices Islam. This figure may be underestimating the actual number. According to research completed by Human Rights Watch, Muslim religious leaders believe this figure is closer to 10%. Muslims suffer from a wide range of human rights abuses; from restriction of movement, extra-judicial killings and forced labor, to discrimination in hiring and higher education. Many Muslims are not indigenous to Burma and because long familial links to Burma must be proven in order to gain citizenship, many Muslim families who have been living in Burma for generations are denied citizenship and are thereby excluded from government positions and subject to domestic travel restrictions.
Islam initially arrived with traders and travelers from the Middle East and India who settled in Arakan State and along the coast. While some Muslims have lived in Burma for hundreds of years, most arrived during the period of British colonial rule beginning in 1824, when many Indians and Bengali Muslims migrated to Burma in search of work and business opportunities. The term Muslim in the Burmese language is used to indicate both a religion and an ethnicity therefore Muslims in Burma face discrimination as both an ethnic and a religious group. The Burmese use the term "Ka La" or "Indian" to refer to all Muslim people as most are descended from South Asian countries such as Bangladesh or India. Most Muslims who live in Burma were born there, speak Burmese as a first language and come from families that have lived in Burma for several generations. Communities of Muslims can be found all over Burma in most every urban area. While Arakan State has the largest Muslim population, large communities can also be found in Mandalay and Rangoon. Many Muslims who live in Karen State refer to themselves as ‘Black Karen’ or ‘Pwakanyaw Thu’ as they have integrated smoothly into Karen communities. While the non-Muslim Karen do not view the Muslims as Karen, they tend to coexist peacefully. (Source: KHRG)
Tension between Muslims and non-Muslims is longstanding in Burmese history. During the period of British colonial rule Muslims took up many occupations as traders, businessmen, laborers, civil servants and moneylenders. Those involved in money lending or Indian chettyar profession were often viewed as cheating the Burmese by stealing their money and land. Generally accorded higher status by the British, the Indians were often resented by the Burman population. As a result tensions and violence often occurred during the colonial period. During World War II, nearly 500,000 Muslims were driven out of Burma by General Aung San’s Burma Independence Army because they supported the British at the time when General Aung San was supporting the Japanese.
The government has readily exploited whatever Anti-Muslim sentiment is present among the public. There is a history of anti-Muslim riots breaking out in Burma when the government wants to divert the public’s attention from political and economic concerns. In 1988 the SLORC provoked anti-Muslim riots in Taunggyi and Prome during the pro-democracy movement. In May 1996 anti-Muslim literature, widely believed to have been written by the SLORC, was distributed in four towns in Shan State leading to several incidences of violence. In September 1996 the SLORC razed a 600-year old mosque in Arakan State and used the rubble to pave paths between new military base camps in the area. And in March 1997 SLORC officials were accused of instigating attacks against Muslims and of exacerbating existing tensions between the Muslim and Buddhist communities in Central Burma. (Source: The BurmaNet News: SLORC Anti-Muslim Campaign in Karen State, April 29, 1997, Issue #707)
In February 2001, anti-Muslim riots broke out in Sittwe the capital of Arakan State. The rioting persisted for 4 days until the authorities intervened to prevent any further aggression. Both Buddhists and Muslims were killed and suffered injuries. Approximately 50 Muslim homes were burned. In May 2001, riots broke out in Taungoo, Bago Division. After 2 days the military intervened, promptly halting the unrest. 10 Muslims and 2 Buddhists were killed and there was widespread damage to mosques and Muslim homes and businesses. In both cases monks were reported to have incited some degree of the violence. In addition it was reported that the monks were Union Solidarity and Development Association members (USDA) or military personnel dressed as monks. In both cases government security, firefighters and police did little to nothing to protect Muslim mosques, homes or businesses. In October 2001, riots broke out again in Prome, reportedly the result of anger over a young Buddhist woman eloping with a Muslim man who allegedly later forced her to convert to Islam. The riots sparked violence in many other regions as well.
In July 2002, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a briefing paper summarizing the religious violence of 2001. HRW indicated that the SPDC took minimal action if any to prevent or stop the violence against Muslims. (Source: Crackdown on Burmese Muslims, HRW, July 2002) The SPDC reacted by claiming that the riots were minor disagreements. Moreover, the SPDC claimed that conflicts based on religious differences rarely occur. In the event that it does, authorities together with religious leaders resolve all problems peacefully preventing any extended violence. (Source: AFP) On 27 December 2002, during his report at the 59th Session of the UN General Assembly, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Burma, indicated that "Chronic problems involving Muslims especially but not only in Rakhine (Arakan) State, continued to be reported." ( Source: "Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar," Economic and Social Council Resolution on Burma at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights 2002, Fifty ninth session, Agenda item 9, 27 December 2002)
Muslims are often issued special identity papers or no identity papers at all and face heavy travel restrictions. According to the 1982 citizenship law, citizenship will only be extended to people who can prove that their families resided in Burma before the commencement of British colonial rule in 1824. The SPDC indicates that as of 10 years old, any Burmese is eligible to obtain an interim national identity card. When he or she reaches 18 years of age, a permanent identity card can be obtained. As Muslims are not viewed as citizens, they are unable to receive national identity cards. Muslims are seen as foreigners in their own country but they are also denied Foreign Registration Cards, which allow foreigners to live legally in Burma. According to SPDC law identity cards must be shown any time a police or military personnel requests. Lack of an identity card can lead to arrest and imprisonment. A Muslim person must obtain a 10-day travel visa in order to go to Rangoon. Bribes ranging from 300 to 1,000 Kyat must be paid at every checkpoint along the way. According to SPDC law, all visitors and guests must be registered with the Immigration Police and the District Peace and Development Council upon arrival at their destination. This also requires an identity card. Penalties for housing unregistered guests include interrogation, arrest, imprisonment, or subjection to forced portering on the frontlines for the army. Both guests and hosts alike may be subjected to penalties. (Source: KHRG & HRW)
Without an identity card obtaining employment and education are increasingly difficult for Muslims. The SPDC does not allow Muslim communities to build any more Islamic schools instead Muslims are allowed to study in SPDC schools through high school. In order to study at the university or college level entrance exams must be completed. Identity cards must be shown in order to take the exams, therefore Muslims are often unable to even take the entrance exams. At the same time, they would not be able to travel easily to another town or city in order to attend a university. Similarly, Muslims are prevented from procuring employment in private companies as many require identity cards. For the same reason, most Muslims are unable to join the civil service or military. For those who are able to obtain a position promotion is highly unlikely. (Source: Easy Targets: The Persecution of Muslims in Burma, KHRG, May 2002)
According to Human Rights Watch, travel restrictions have prevented Burmese Muslims from performing the Haj, the holy pilgrimage to Mecca. In 2002, Muslims had to overcome greater restrictions than before. Prior to 2002, an official SPDC coordinated delegation of 200 Burmese Muslims and an additional 5000 Muslims performed the pilgrimage every year. In 2002, only the delegation of 200 was granted permission to travel. While the SPDC did not ban Muslims from performing the Haj, they did not grant passports to any Muslims. The President of the Burmese Islamic Council reported that the percentage of Muslims procuring passports dropped from 20% to 5%, making both holy pilgrimage and business activities increasingly difficult.(Source: Crackdown on Burmese Muslims, HRW, July 2002)
After the 1988 pro-democracy demonstrations, the SPDC created a law banning gatherings of five people or more. Those who do so may be subject to arrest. This law is often overlooked except in the case of Muslims who must seek permission from all levels of government to hold celebrations for major religious holidays and ceremonies. The levels of government include the Township, Division, State, Peace and Development Councils as well as the Military Region Commander. In the cities where rioting transpired in 2001, Muslims have been banned from attending mosques or other group worship including the funerals of those who were killed in the riots. (Source: Easy Targets: The Persecution of Muslims in Burma, KHRG, May 2002)
Discrimination Against Rohingya
“Crossing the border won’t give us any solution since the neighboring country is not willing to take us. Though we are subjected to the worst human rights violations, not even being allowed to earn our own livelihood, we won’t be considered as political victims. Even in Bangladesh, there is a rising tendency to accuse the Muslims who fled from here to be considered as ‘economic migrants’, which we are not. We want to live honorably enjoying the full rights of a Burmese citizen but the SPDC won’t allow us though we have been living in this country for hundreds of years.”
–A Village Elder from Maungdaw Township, Arakan State (Source: Narinjara News)
There are 1.4 million members of the Rohingya (Bengali-speaking Muslims) minority in Arakan State, on the country’s western coast. The Rohingya are mostly concentrated in the northern part of Arakan State and experience severe legal, economic and social discrimination. Under the leadership of General Ne Win restrictions and oppression of Muslims increased tremendously. Because the majority of Rohingyas immigrated during the period of British colonial rule, General Ne Win viewed them as foreigners who had settled illegally. In the 1974 Emergency Immigration Act the Rohingya were denied citizenship and nationality. In 1977, General Ne Win led operation Naga Min or Dragon King which drove 200,000 Rohingya across the border into Bangladesh to seek refuge from the registration and prosecution campaign against the "illegal" residents in Arakan State. According to the 1982 citizenship law, proof must be provided that ancestors resided in Burma prior to annexation by the British.
More than 30,000 Rohingya living in and around Sittwe, the Capital of Arakan State, have no national identity cards as the government refused to issue new identity cards to them after the existing identity cards were abolished in 1988. Without ID cards these people are unable to travel freely, attend educational institutes or start a business. Hundreds of Rohingya are without identity cards in other parts of the State, including Maung Taw township, Buu Thee Taung township and Paut Taw township. People have written many times to the Home Ministry on the issue, yet there has been no reply from the government. (Source: AHRW)
According to Forum Asia, 100 000 Rohingya continue to flee Arakan State every year. Most refugees report that they flee as the result of starvation and lack of food. Due to forced labor, lack of employment and land confiscation for either Buddhist settlers or military camps, most Rohingya are unable to obtain food or money to buy food. The problem is exacerbated by heavy travel restrictions. Rohingya are required to get a travel permit in order to go anywhere outside of their own villages including a neighboring village. After the communal riots in Sittwe in February 2001, travel restrictions tightened. Rohingya can no longer obtain travel passes to go beyond Buthidaung and Maungdaw, nor can they go to Sittwe. All of these factors create tremendous obstacles for the Rohingya to seek employment and engage in trade. The SPDC requires the Rohingya to seek permission to get married and they are required to pay a fee, which ranges from 10,000 to 20,000 kyats. As most families are unable to secure proper nutrition they are also unable to pay the marriage fees. Rohingya who do not follow these procedures may be subject to fines or arrest. (Source: Forum Asia)
Muslims in Arakan state also continue to suffer as victims of forced relocation. Currently there are townships such as Suchas, Thandwe, Gwa, and Taung-gut, that have been declared "Muslim-free zones." In the areas where Muslims are no longer permitted to live, mosques have been destroyed and Muslim lands have been confiscated. To make sure that these mosques are not rebuilt they have been replaced with government-owned buildings, monasteries and Buddhist temples. As further evidence of the anti-Muslim sentiment entrenched in government policies, the SPDC has issued a court order in Arakan State which mandates that the killing of a Muslim be punished with a minimum 3-month sentence, while if a Muslim hits a Buddhist, they will be sentenced to 3 years imprisonment. Additionally, by the end of 2001 there were reports that in the northern part of Arakan State the SPDC was systematically destroying mosques in some small villages. In one area, local government authorities had already destroyed at least 10 of a total of 40 mosques that had been marked for destruction. These mosques, which in most cases were little more than thatch huts, reportedly were constructed without proper authority by villagers who were unable to go to mosques in neighboring towns because of strict travel restrictions placed on Muslims. After the 2001 riots, Rohingya have been denied permission to build any new mosques or restore those that were damaged in the riots. The SPDC has created restrictions on the number of Muslims that can gather together in mosques and have denied permission for Rohingya to gather to celebrate Muslim holidays.(Source: US Department of State)
Many sources indicate that another cause of increased restrictions on religious activities and travel for Muslims was the attack on the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001. Initially, the SPDC refuted the existence of any terrorist organizations in Burma. Yet, in August 2002, Burma became a signatory to the US-ASEAN declaration on cooperation against terrorism. Colonel Hla Min, spokesman of the SPDC, said that the government learned that there are Muslim rebel groups in Burma who have been trained by the Taliban in Afghanistan and in terrorist training camps in the Middle East. He indicated that the SPDC would not tolerate any individuals who would pose a threat to national and regional security (source: "Myanmar Says Muslims Trained by Taliban and in Middle East Camps, AFP, 8 August 2002). In reaction, members of Muslim Liberation Organization of Burma denied the claims (source: Seng, Naw "Exiled Muslims Deny Taliban Connections, Irrawaddy, 9 August 2002). In another public statement, the SPDC claimed that the Rohingya are a terrorist separatist group. The Rohingya National Organization rejected the allegations and indicated the SPDC was merely attempting to find new avenues for persecuting the Muslims of Arakan State (source: "Myanmar to Investigate Terror Tape", Myanmar Times, 26 August -1 September 2002).
Persecution of Rohingya - partial list of incidents 2002
More Land Confiscation for Burman Buddhist Incomers on the Order of Western Command.
On 1 June 2002, Brig General Maung Oo of the Western Command accompanied by the Na Sa Ka Commander of Akyab (Sittwe), instructed local officers to confiscate 750 acres of Rohingya farm lands from Nwa-Ron-Daung (Khoror Dale) village tract in Maungdaw North, Arakan State, an owner of confiscated land reported.
Upon arrival to Maungdaw Brig. Gen Maung Oo held a meeting with Lt Col. Soe Twe, chairman of the District Peace and Development Council (DPDC) and Lt Col. Aung Ngwe, commander of Na Sa Ka headquarters in Maungdaw Township, during which they reportedly discussed the progress of the new model villages (Natala villages) established by the military.
Brig. Gen. Maung Oo, accompanied by Col. Khin Naing Thein, the Commander of Military Operation Command (MOC) No.15, visited the two townships of Buthidaung and Rathedaung between 2-3 June, and inspected the progress of works of the projects related to Natala villages for new Burman Buddhist settlers.
On 5 June, Brig. Gen. Maung Oo and team left Maungdaw for Akyab in a speedboat. 3 days after their departure, the commander of Na Sa Ka sector No.6, Maj. Than Tun, as per instruction of Brig. Gen. Maung Oo, confiscated about 750 acres of Rohingyas’ lands from Nwa-Ron-Daung (Khoror Dale) village tract, a place about 4 miles north of Maungdaw. Earlier, on May 13, about 300 acres of land, belonging to both Rohingya and Rakhaing communities, was confiscated by the Na Sa Ka and so this second confiscation means that land had been taken twice from the same village tract within a span of two months.
Now is the season for paddy cultivation, however most of the Rohingya farmers have become landless while their remaining farmlands are being progressively confiscated. Being landless and jobless and having no opportunity to work except forced labour, the Rohingya farmers are now in acute difficulties and in a miserable condition. This is a deliberate policy of the ruling junta to cause a serious famine-like situation in the future for people in Arakan state. Burman Buddhist settlers have been regularly brought into northern Arakan from Burma proper to settle down on these confiscated lands and to grab more lands from the local people. Thereby gradually pushing the Rohingya inhabitants either into the internally displaced people or refugees, said a retired government servant.
(Source: Kaladan Press)
Muslims Pay Rice for Burmese Settlers
On 18 November 2002, a Muslim leader reported to news sources that Muslim villagers living in Maungdaw Township on the western Burma border with Bangladesh have been forced to give rice to the Burmese junta officials for the upkeep of the Burmese settlers in the area. Beginning in 1995, a number of model villages have been built around Maungdaw Town for the Burmese settlers brought in by the ruling Burmese junta. Each Muslim family around Padummala village, 10 miles south of Maungdaw, were ordered to pay fifteen baskets of rice (about 180 kilo) for the season.
The Burmese settlers brought to the area in 1995-96 were mostly homeless people with few skills. One village elder indicated that many Burmese settlers were suspected of being connected to crime in Burma proper. Each of the settlers were granted three acres of paddy, a buffalo cart, and a pair of bullocks. They were also provided with houses built by the junta officials. The houses had corrugated iron sheet roofs. Because most of the settlers were unskilled and unable to support themselves, they sold the corrugated iron sheets to buy food. Many have secrtely returned to their homes in areas such as Mandalay and Rangoon. Yet, the Burmese settlers remain a heavy burden on the Muslim villagers nearby because they must support the Burmese with rice and other agricultural products, as ordered by the junta. (Source: Narinjara)
Persecution of Muslims - partial list of incidents
Muslims Forced to Flee Due to Food Scarcity Caused by Forced Rice Collection and Travel Restrictions
On 29 June 2002, it was reported that no less than 30 Burmese Muslims fled across the border from Arakan State to Bangladesh. Their village was in Maungdaw Township near the Naaf River. The group, which included women and children, left their homes because of lack of food and oppressive regulations of the SPDC. The shortage of food was the result of the SPDC’s "rice collection drive" through which farmers are forced to sell large quantities of rice to the government leaving them inadequate amounts of rice to feed their families. According to one rice farmer, the SPDC demanded a larger amount of rice than the previous year. In addition, the farmer revealed that the SPDC only paid between 25 –35% of the market price. At the same time, the Muslim residents were unable to find work in their villages nor were they able to travel to other villages because they do not hold travel permits. In order to obtain a travel permit, they would have to bribe three different government departments. (Source: Naranjara News)
SPDC Authorities Extort Money from Muslim Funeral Goers in Burma
On 22 September 2002, State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) authorities extorted 20,000 kyats from 7 relatives of a deceased Muslim who were on their way to participate in the funeral and burial in Karen State, Burma, according to a relative speaking on condition of anonymity.
The funeral was of U Swa Leh, (50 years old). The relatives were stopped at Kawkariek entrance gate by the authorities, who beat one of them and demanded bribe money, the relative said. The deceased was from Ye Nan Si Gong Yat Kwet, Kawkariek Myo (town), and the relatives were from Kyon Doe village, the same township, the relative said. (Source: MICB)
Closure and Destruction of Mosques - partial list of incidents
Mosque Destroyed in Ka Ma Moung Village
Name: Zaw Htun Oo
Occupation: livestock trader
Address in Burma: Karen State
On 28th or 29th February, Zaw Htun Oo traveled to Ka Ma Moung village in Pa-an Township to buy forty cattle. For every two cattle he bought he was forced to pay 25,000 kyat to the local DKBA authorities. Moe Lwin, who is a VPDC section leader in Ka Ma Moung village and also a member of the DKBA, gave the order to the village residents that they must destroy the mosque or else the entire village would be relocated. The next morning both VPDC and DKBA members together bulldozed the mosque.
Hasein, the Muslim religious leader in the village, went to Moe Lwin and asked him why he was destroying the mosque and demanded that he stop. Moe Lwin then arrested him and threw him in jail for six days. The Muslims in the village had to pay Moe Lwin 270,000 kyat to release Hasein. The SPDC Ka Mi Ya 202 then told the 65 muslim families in the village "this area is not for you, it is only for Burmese Buddhists." They gave the families new places to stay that were ½ mile to 2 miles away from Ka Ma Moung village. The muslim families were forced to work as laborers in nearby fields belonging to others. Much of the land they were resettled on became flooded in the rainy season, it was difficult to get food and many of the families fled to refugee camps in Thailand. About 25 Muslim families were able to pay 100,000 kyat to the DKBA to stay in their homes in the village.
Buddhist families living outside the village took over most of the homes and fields of those Muslim families who had been forced out. A new pagoda and monastery was built on the site of the mosque. Currently in Ka Ma Moung village if a Muslim family wants to buy land from a Buddhist they must pay a heavy tax. For example if the price of the land is 100,000 kyat, they must pay an additional 200,000 kyat to the DKBA. (Source: HRDU)
Military Attacks on Mosque and Villagers
On 10 June 2002, at about 4:20 pm, 4 army personnel in civilian dress equipped with knives and swords attacked, withouth provocation, the mosque, villagers and Iman (the religious leader leading the prayer) of "Saan Gana"(Thin Ga Net) village tract, about 12 miles north of Buthidaung whilst they were praying said a villager from Saan Ganavillage who recently crossed the border.
The army personnel belonging to SPDC LIB No.551 of Buthidaung township had suddenly come to the village, attacked the village mosque, beat and tortured the devotees, demolished the mosque walls, ransacked the holy Qur’an and other holy books and destroyed whatever was found inside the mosque. At one stage, when it became intolerable, the villagers saying the prayers inside the mosque caught two of the culprits while the other two managed to escape, he further added.
Upon hearing this information, a section of the army rushed to the location while beating and torturing the villagers along the way from their camp to the place of occurrence.
The army also went to a house of one Abdus Salam, a resident of the village, where a marriage ceremony was being held and started indiscriminately beating people. Many were injured, including old men and women. Meanwhile, some of the participants were arrested and carried away to the army camp, he further said.
The next day, on 11 June, the Chairman and Secretary of the Village PDC together with some villagers went to the Nasaka, Military Intelligence (MI) and police of Taung Bazar of Buthidaung township and appraised them of the event. They were advised to give information about the incident to the Military Operation Command (MOC) No. 15 stationed at Dabru Chaung under Buthidaung Township. The Commander of MOC asked the villagers to pinpoint the accused so that action could be taken by police, said a source from Dabru Chaung.
Starting on 14 June, under the pretext of the inquiry, the police and the army frequently visited the village and arrested and tortured the villagers leaving a number of them injured. The arrested people were implicated in the case and were detained in the military camp until payment of ransoms, a police source said.
Again on 24 June, 4 Rohingyas of the same village were arrested and detained by the army. They were: Noor Hossain, 50, S/o Late Abu Taleb, VPDC Chairman,
Mohammd Idris S/o Akhtar Kamal, 35, Secretary of VPDC, Noor Mohammd S/o Abul Khair, 51, member of VPDC, Shamsu, 35, Chairman of Ma-Ba-Ka (a newly formed village reporting committee). All of them were tortured and were later released on medical grounds but on the condition that they would be present before the military when requested, said another villager.
It is reported that the villagers are still taken by surprise and implicated in the case. Many villagers have gone into hiding to escape arrest. They include Moulvi Mohamed Yunus, 28, S/o Sayed Hussain, Mohammed Tuha, 27, S/o Jalal Ahmed, Ahmed Hussain, 50, and two sons of Abu Sayed, aged 23 and 25 years, the villager further added. (Source: Kaladan Press)
Mosque Closed in Mon State
During the hot season of 2002, it was reported that the SPDC shut down a mosque in Kaw Ka Ni village in Mon State. A Buddhist girl and a Muslim boy (both around 19 years old) who worked as a carpenter had fallen in love. They decided to go to the mosque and were married by the Iman without their parents knowledge. When the girl’s parents found out what had happened they called the police who came and arrested the boy. The boy was given a ten year sentence and sent to prison and his family was forced to pay a fine. The Iman was able to escape but the mosque was ordered to be shut down. There are approximately 100 families in Kaw Ka Ni village, and prior to the closing of the mosque there was a total of three mosques. (Source: HRDU)
10.4 SPDC control over Buddhism
According to the US Department of State, over 90% of the total population of Burma or 45,000,000 people practice Theravada Buddhism. 2% of the male Buddhist population or 300,000 men are either Buddhist monks or novices. As Buddhism is the majority religion, the SPDC has allied itself to Buddhism as a method of maintaining legitimacy as a government in Burma. The SPDC operated media often publicizes government participation in special ceremonies, donations to pagodas, homage paid to monks and organizes public donations of food, money and labor to pagodas and monasteries. SPDC run newspapers often publish excerpts from Buddhist texts. Furthermore, the SPDC published Buddhist lesson books and supports two State Sangha Universities in Mandalay and Rangoon. Directed by the State Clergy Coordination Committee or the Sangha Maja Nayaka Committee (SMNC), the universities prepare new Buddhist clergy. The SPDC also sponsored the International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University (ITBMU) in Rangoon in the mid-1990’s, as a means to share information about Buddhism with the world. (Source: US Department of State)
The SPDC only recognizes nine monastic orders, which are all subject to the authority of the SMNC. All other monastic orders are banned. The SPDC created a code of conduct for monks. Those who deviate from the code may be subject to criminal penalties or trial by military tribunal. Buddhist clergy are also subject to travel restrictions in some areas. In 1999, monks in Mandalay were required to get written permission from local authorities and submit their identity cards before traveling outside of their township of residence. (Source: US Department of State)
Buddhist clergy have often played a role in political activism against the government, so the SPDC continually works to prevent Buddhist clergy from engaging in pro-democracy political activities. Some monasteries are restricted from allowing political party members to stay overnight. In the 1990s, over 100 Buddhist monks were detained as a result of involvement with pro-democracy activities. While nearly half have been released, at the end of 2002 many remained in prison or labor camps. Others are serving life sentences including the venerable U Kalyana of Mandalay, a member of the Aung San Red Star Association, and the venerable U Kawiya of the Phayahyi monastery in Mandalay. According to the US State Department, a Buddhist Monk was arrested for giving a sermon in which he scrutinized the economic and political conditions of Burma at a religious ceremony in Mandalay on 1 August 2001. (Source: US Department of State)
Burmese Army Disrobed a Mon Buddhist Monk on Suspicion of Being a Rebel
On 28 January 2002, SPDC LIB No. 550 disrobed a Mon monk in Kyon-kwee village, Three Pagodas Pass township, Mon State because they believed him to be a member of the Mon Restoration Party (MRP) or Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), both rebel groups. The LIB No. 550 was patrolling the area when they were attacked by MRA soldiers near Kyon-keww village, which is about 15 Km from Three Pagodas Pass. After the fighting ended, Lt Col. Tin Maung Lwin of SPDC LIB 550 was angry and arrested the monk Nai Galae, 45 years old. The Lt Col had received incorrect information from other villagers that the monk had been involved with the fighting as a lay man. After the figting ended the Nai Galae put on monks robes. The soldiers tortured and interrogated the monk for over an hour before disrobing him. They tortured him by beating his head and then holding it under water until he gave information. They also kicked him and punched him in the stomach.
Villagers who knew him reported that he was not involved in the fighting, but when the MRP had arrived to their village they had ordered him to buy some food and liquor for them from neighboring villages. As the ambush attack had occured in the same area, the SPDC soldiers thought that the man was an informer. After the fighting ended, the man was afraid that he would be accused of being a rebel so he dressed as a monk wth the help of the Kyon-kwee monastery. After the soldiers arrested and tortured him, they took him away with them and he has not been seen since that time. (Source: HURFOM)
10.5 Personal Account
Myanmar (Burma) Jew Keeps His Faith Alive
Moses Samuels sits in front of Myanmar’s (Burma) only synagogue, thinking back to his childhood in the days before most of the country’s Jews were forced out by its military rulers. "There were plenty of Jews. We had a school, the upstairs of the synagogue was full with women on a Friday evening and the gents were downstairs," said Mr. Samuels, 51, the synagogue’s trustee and Jewish community leader in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar (Burma). "My father had plenty of friends, and every Saturday they came and we ate together." However in 1964, military dictator Ne Win unleashed a socialist-inspired nationalization drive, forcing Rangoon’s once-thriving Jewish community, which numbered approximately 2500, out of business and out of the country en masse. Only 20 Jews from eight families remain now, and many plan to leave, choosing the economic promise of Israel over impoverished Myanmar. I will soon send from here two or three families," Mr. Samuels said. "Most haven’t got jobs".
Business is slowing down and they want to go to Israel. A letter from Israel’s President posted at the synagogue entrance urges Jews to move there. "If the majority of Jewish people lived among us, the peace process with the Arab nations would progress more quickly and effectively," it says. Mr. Samuels says most of his friends are Muslim.
The cool, blue stone synagogue, built in 1893, lies among run-down but bustling, shops offering fishing nets, paint and shoes in the middle of Rangoon’s main Muslim community. "I’ve got plenty of friends in these streets," Mr. Samuels said. "In the hot season they come and sit inside the synagogue." They use my water and during the high holidays, if I can’t get electricity I get it from the Muslim shops for two or three hours," he said, lamenting Myanmar’s (Burma) almost daily electricity cuts, which can last for hours. "The Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Middle East politics are not conversation topics. They don’t discuss it with me. They talk business and then they go to the mosque and I go to the synagogue," Mr. Samuels said.
Mr. Samuels is a descendant of Iraqi Jews who started to arrive in Myanmar — formerly Burma in the 1850s. Like most in the community, his grandfather and father had a trading company, sending cotton, rice and textiles to British India. The synagogue follows traditional Iraqi design and is easily spotted from the busy street by a navy blue Star of David that Mr. Samuels hammered onto the front of the building. Inside two wooden balconies overlook the main aisle where a handful of worshippers, usually including three or four people from the Israeli embassy, congregate for major Jewish holy days. The services are led either by Mr. Samuels’s son Sammy or the Israeli ambassador. "The last time a rabbi came here was in 1967, from India," he said. "A rabbi can’t stay very long because there’s no kosher food," Mr. Samuels said. "I eat halal, there’s plenty around here."
Mr. Samuels spends much of his time welcoming visitors. Some are the sons and daughters of Rangoon Jews who left for Israel, the United States, Britain and Australia in 1964."Thank you for keeping the Jewish spirit alive" in Rangoon, a New Yorker wrote in the visitors’ book. "A miracle," an Israeli wrote of Myanmar’s (Burma) surviving Jewish community. Most visitors also go to the nearby Jewish cemetery to see the 700 curved concrete tombs that, lined together in more than 20 rows, resemble a rough corrugated roof. The cemetery has been officially closed since 1997 when the military government ordered Mr. Samuels to move the graves to a new site on the outskirts of Rangoon. He said the government wants to build on the land, but he will not abandon the cemetery until the ruling generals force him. "It’s sad, but what can I do? All the land belongs to the government here. There are no Jewish boys or girls here, everyone’s old," he said. (Source: Reuters, May 2, 2002, Myanmar Jew keeps his faith’s light alive)
Personal Account of Muslim in ??????????????
Name: U Soe Win
Occupation in Burma: Iman (Muslim religious leader)
Occupation in Thailand: Iman
U Soe Win came from Burma in 2001. He reports that Muslims in Burma have no rights. If they want to go anywhere outside their village or town they have to pay money at every checkpoint. If they can’t pay the money they will be arrested. In Pa-an town for the last two years if people want to go in a group and spend several days in a mosque for prayer or festivals they must first contact the police to get permission. The police record the number of people, their names, addresses, age, names of parents and how many days they will stay there. If one person wants to go alone to pray at the mosque for a short time they do not have to do this. U Soe Win reports that he believes this situation is the same throughout the country.
U Soe Win also reports that Muslims traveling between towns are frequently stopped by the police who demand to know where they are going. Muslim men in particular are often easily identified by their beards, religious caps and distinctive dress. The police tell them that they must not go and must stay in their home town or village. To continue their journey people have to pay a bribe to the officials, which ranges from 3,000-5,000 kyat for a person who appears poor, to 10,000-50,000 to a person whom the police think has more money. People who can not pay the money are arrested and put in jail.
In 1999 U Soe Win and his brother were traveling from Kawkareik to Pa-an when they were stopped at a checkpoint. The officials demanded that he and his brother pay 5,000 baht or be arrested. After they paid the money the officials told them not to tell anyone else that they had paid money. Saya Naing Zaw notes that all the officials were Buddhists.
Nowadays because Muslims are not given any ID cards it is very difficult for them to travel anywhere within the country or go to university. There are many Burmese Muslims and Christians who are very educated but are not allowed to practice their professions, for example if someone is a doctor they are not allowed to practice as a doctor. Muslims who want to go abroad for study are not allowed to go unless they pay a very large amount of money. (Source: HRDU)
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