Military hostilities against insurgents may result in Christian casualties and persecution.
CHIANG MAI, Thailand, October 22 (CDN) — With Burma’s first election in over 20 years just two weeks away, Christians in ethnic minority states fear that afterward the military regime will try to “cleanse” the areas of Christianity, sources said.
The Burmese junta is showing restraint to woo voters in favor of its proxy party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), but it is expected to launch a military offensive on insurgents in ethnic minority states after the Nov. 7 election, Burma watchers warned.
When Burma Army personnel attack, they do not discriminate between insurgents and unarmed residents, said a representative of the pro-democracy Free Burma Rangers relief aid group in Chiang Mai, close to the Thai-Burma border. There is a large Christian population in Burma’s Kachin, Karen and Karenni states along the border that falls under the military’s target zone. Most of the slightly more than 2 million Christians in Burma (also called Myanmar) reside along the country’s border with Thailand, China and India.
The military seems to be preparing its air force for an offensive, said Aung Zaw, editor of the Chiang Mai-based magazine Irrawaddy, which covers Burma. The Burmese Air Force (BAF) bought 50 Mi-24 helicopters and 12 Mi-2 armored transport helicopters from Russia in September, added Zaw, a Buddhist.
Irrawaddy reported that the BAF had procured combat-equipped helicopters for the first time in its history. Air strikes will be conducted “most likely in Burma’s ethnic areas, where dozens of armed groups still exert control,” the magazine reported, quoting BAF sources.
“Armed conflicts between ethnic armies and the military can flare up any time,” said Zaw. “However, to boost the morale of its personnel, the military is expected to attack smaller ethnic groups first, and then the more powerful ones.”
Seven states of Burma have armed and unarmed groups demanding independence or autonomy from the regime: Shan, Karenni (also known as Kayah), Karen, Mon, Chin, Kachin, and Arakan (also Rakhine).
The junta has designated many areas in this region as “Black Zones” – entirely controlled by armed ethnic groups – and “Brown Zones,” where the military has partial control, said the source from FBR, which provides relief to internally displaced people in states across the Thai-Burma border.
“There are many unarmed Christian residents in these zones where Burmese military personnel attack and kill anyone on sight,” the source said.
A Karen state native in Chiang Mai who identified himself only as Pastor Joseph, who fled Burma as a child, referred to the junta’s clandestine campaign to wipe out Christians from the country. At least four years ago a secret memo circulated in Karen state, “Program to Destroy the Christian Religion in Burma,” that carried “point by point instructions on how to drive Christians out of the state,” reported the British daily Telegraph on Jan. 21, 2007.
“The text, which opens with the line, ‘There shall be no home where the Christian religion is practiced,’ calls for anyone caught evangelizing to be imprisoned,” the Telegraph reported. “It advises: ‘The Christian religion is very gentle – identify and utilize its weakness.’”
Persecution of Christians in Burma “is part of a wider campaign by the regime, also targeted at ethnic minority tribes, to create a uniform society in which the race and language is Burmese and the only accepted religion is Buddhism,” the daily noted.
The junta perceives all Christians in ethnic minority states as insurgents, according to the FBR. Three months ago, Burma Army’s Light Infantry Battalions 370 and 361 attacked a Christian village in Karen state, according to the FBR. In Tha Dah Der village on July 23, army personnel burned all houses, one of the state’s biggest churches – which was also a school – and all livestock and cattle, reported the FBR.
More than 900 people fled to save their lives.
Vague Religious Freedom
The Burmese regime projects that close to 70 percent of the country’s population is ethnic Burman. Ethnic minorities dispute the claim, saying the figure is inflated to make a case for Burman Buddhist nationalism.
The new constitution, which will come into force with the first session of parliament after the election, was passed through a referendum in May 2008 that was allegedly rigged. It provides for religious freedom but also empowers the military to curb it under various pretexts.
Article 34 states, “Every citizen is equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess and practice religion subject to public order, morality or health and to the other provisions of this Constitution.” Article 360 (a), however, says this freedom “shall not include any economic, financial, political or other secular activities that may be associated with religious practice,” apparently to bar religious groups from any lobbying or advocacy.
Further, Article 360 (b) goes on to say that the freedom “shall not debar the Union from enacting law for the purpose of public welfare and reform.”
Adds Article 364: “The abuse of religion for political purposes is forbidden. Moreover, any act which is intended or is likely to promote feelings of hatred, enmity or discord between racial or religious communities or sects is contrary to this Constitution. A law may be promulgated to punish such activity.”
Furthermore, Article 382 empowers “the Defense Forces personnel or members of the armed forces responsible to carry out peace and security” to “restrict or revoke” fundamental rights.
The Burmese junta is expected to remain at the helm of affairs after the election. The 2008 constitution reserves one-fourth of all seats in national as well as regional assemblies for military personnel.
A majority of people in Burma are not happy with the military’s USDP party, and military generals are expected to twist the results in its favor, said Htet Aung, chief election reporter at Irrawaddy.
Khonumtung News Group, an independent Burmese agency, reported on Oct. 2 that most educated young Burmese from Chin state were “disgusted” with the planned election, “which they believe to be a sham and not likely to be free and fair.”
They “are crossing the border to Mizoram in the northeast state of India from Chin state and Sagaing division to avoid participating,” Khonumtung reported. “On a regular basis at least five to 10 youths are crossing the border daily to avoid voting. If they stay in Burma, they will be coerced to cast votes.”
There is “utter confusion” among people, and they do not know if they should vote or not, said Aung of Irrawaddy. While the second largest party, the National Unity Party, is pro-military, there are few pro-democracy and ethnic minority parties.
“Many of the pro-democracy and ethnic minority candidates have little or no experience in politics,” Aung said. “All those who had some experience have been in jail as political prisoners for years.”
In some ethnic minority states, the USDP might face an embarrassing defeat. And this can deepen the military’s hostility towards minorities, including Christians, after the election, added Aung.
For now, an uneasy calm prevails in the Thai-Burma border region where most ethnic Christians live.
Report from Compass Direct News
Air Force police illegally detain 14-year-old, relatives after allegations of theft.
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, April 29 (CDN) — Local authorities on Monday (April 26) recovered a 14-year-old Christian girl from Pakistan Air Force (PAF) police who allegedly tortured her and her family for five days here as Christian “soft targets” over false theft allegations, sources said.
Islamabad police in predominantly Sunni Muslim Pakistan removed Sumera Pervaiz from a PAF hospital, where she was recovering from injuries that a doctor said could cripple her for life. Earlier this month, according to family and police sources, PAF police were said to have illegally detained her and members of her family after PAF Wing Commander Faheem Cheema, who had hired Sumera as a maid, found gold ornaments and other valuables missing from his home in PAF Colony, Islamabad.
Cheema filed a theft complaint with local police without naming any suspects, but without informing local officers the wing commander on April 15 allegedly directed PAF police to detain Sumera and four members of her family – Pervaiz Masih, Sana Bibi, Parveen Masih and Kala Masih – who live in PAF Colony in Islamabad. PAF police allegedly failed to inform local police about detaining the family.
Cheema has denied that he ordered PAF police to detain the girl and her family members.
When District and Session Court Judge Mazhar Hussain Barlas ordered Sumera to appear at a hearing on April 22, she testified that on April 15 three persons who were not in uniform arrived at her house at midnight and detained her, her father Pervaiz Masih and the other family members.
“For many days we remained in the custody of those people, who severely tortured me during their ‘interrogation,’” she said.
When the judge asked her who had brought her to the PAF hospital, she replied that during questioning she had lost consciousness and later found herself in the hospital.
“So I don’t know who brought me there,” she said.
Because of injuries sustained during torture, Sumera is barely able to walk, said Dr. Nusrat Saleem of the PAF hospital.
“Sumera is under treatment, we are trying our best, but unfortunately the reports indicate that she might not be able to walk for the rest of her life,” Saleem told Compass.
The Pervaiz family’s Roman Catholic parish priest, Samuel James, said that the theft accusation, illegal detainment and torture would not have happened to fellow Muslims.
“I am really disturbed to see that this innocent family has been severely tortured by the police,” he said. “They have been targeted because of their faith.”
At the April 22 hearing, Sumera testified that as PAF police were questioning her, she saw her brother Imran Pervaiz also was there. The judge instructed the court to take note that PAF police had also taken her brother into custody.
In denying that he had ordered PAF to detain Sumera and her family members, Cheema reportedly said, “I don’t know anything about the illegal detention of the family, nor have I asked the police to interrogate them. They detained the family and tortured them on their own.”
Inspector Saleem Khan of the PAF police, however, indicated otherwise.
“Faheem’s family expressed their doubts about Sumera and her family, saying they are Christians and don’t belong in PAF Colony,” he said.
Initially police had tried to keep Sumera from testifying, with Station House Officer Mumtaz Sheikh telling the court, “Sumera’s health doesn’t allow her to come in the court, and she was therefore admitted in the PAF Hospital.”
The family’s attorneys, Jamila Aslam and Shamoona Javid, replied that their client was in the hospital because she had been tortured and requested that the judge direct that she be produced in court. Barlas so ordered, and a few hours later police brought her from the PAF hospital. It was the judge also who ordered that she and her family members be removed from PAF hospital custody on Monday (April 26).
Barlas also directed police to produce Sumera’s brother, Imran Pervaiz, before the court, saying that failure to do so would result in an order for police to file a First Information Report against Cheema based on testimony by Sumera and her father.
The judge also directed police to ensure that Sumera gets a medical exam, with the results to be shown to the court.
Christian organizations including Ephlal Ministry, Peace Pakistan, Protect Foundation, Life for All and others have condemned the incident. Ephlal Ministry Chairman Mehboob Alam has called on other Christian leaders to assist the family, as they have been evicted from their PAF quarters.
Report from Compass Direct News
Throng from annual event threatens to kill 20-year-old as he distributes Christian literature.
DHAKA, Bangladesh, February 5 (Compass Direct News) – Pilgrims to a massive Islamic conference near this capital city on Sunday (Feb. 1) beat and threatened to kill a Bible school student as he distributed Christian literature.
Rajen Murmo, 20, a student at Believers’ Church Bible College, was distributing the 32-page books among Muslims near the school along with 25 other students in Uttara town in northern Dhaka, just a few kilometers from the banks of a river in Tongi where the government claimed that 4 million Muslim pilgrims had gathered. They had massed for the annual, three-day World Muslim Congregation (Bishwa Ijtema).
Murmo told Compass that a man with a ragged beard in a loose white garment and white trousers, along with some other men, approached the students and told them Muslims did not abide by the Bible because the Quran had superseded it, rendering it outdated.
“Suddenly some of his outrageous entourage grasped me and asked where I got the books and who gave me the books. They wanted to know the address of my religious leaders and mission, but I did not give them the address,” said Murmo. “If I had given them the address of the Bible college, they would have destroyed it. My blank denial to give information to them made them enraged, and they started beating me. They told me if I do not give the address of the religious leaders and mission, they would kill me.”
A throng of more than 50 raucous Muslims kicked, slapped and punched him, he said, leaving him with a split lip. Clutching his collar and tearing his shirt, they insisted that he give them the school’s address and that of his mission and Christian leaders; as he continued to refuse, their anger further flared, he said. A patrolling vehicle from the elite force Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) consisting of army, navy, air force and police appeared and rescued him, Murmo said.
Later the mob persuaded the elite force to send him to a nearby police station, he said, and principal Amos Deory of the Bible college went to release him. Deory told Murmo that police officers expressed concern that if the RAB agents had not arrived in time, the angry pilgrims would have killed him.
The Rev. Kiron Roaza of Believers’ Church told Compass that the Bible students were distributing the tracts as part of their regular evangelistic tasks. He said the beating was unwarranted as Bangladesh’s constitution provides for the right to propagate one’s faith.
Bangladeshi Muslims equate the annual World Muslim Congregation or Bishwa Ijtema with the hajj, the pilgrimage to Islam’s birthplace in Mecca, Saudi Arabia that last year was held Dec. 6-10. The Bangladeshi gathering just north of Dhaka, at which Muslims pray and listen to Islamic scholars from around the world, was first held in the 1960s.
The event was launched by Tabligh Jamaat, a missionary and revival group that shuns politics and urges Muslims to follow Islam in their everyday lives. Its stated purpose is to revive the tenets of Islam and promote peace and harmony. More than 10,000 foreigners from 108 countries attended the event, according to media reports, but most of the worshippers were rural Bangladeshis. Bangladesh is the world’s third-largest Muslim-majority nation, with Muslims making up nearly 90 percent of its population of 150 million.
The Quran calls on all Muslims to make the pilgrimage to Mecca if they have the means. The date changes from year to year based on the Islamic lunar calendar. The official SPA news agency of Saudi Arabia reported the total number of pilgrims to Mecca at nearly 2.4 million, about 1.73 million from abroad and 679,000 from within the kingdom, mostly foreign residents.
Report from Compass Direct News
Couple’s grown sons expel them after neighbors threaten to ostracize grandchildren.
DHAKA, Bangladesh, January 14 (Compass Direct News) – Muslims in a village in western Bangladesh have forced two brothers to expel their parents from their home for converting to Christianity.
Ishmael Sheikh, 70, and his wife Rahima Khatun, 55, were baptized on Nov. 9. By the end of the month, Sheikh told Compass, Muslim neighbors in Kathuly village, near Gangni town in Meherpur district, had compelled their two sons to expel them from their house. Meherpur district is 270 kilometers (168 miles) west of Dhaka.
The ailing Sheikh told Compass that his two sons had come under tremendous pressure from neighbors in the village, which was entirely Muslim before the coupled received Christ. The neighbors threatened that the children of Sheikh’s sons would not be allowed to marry anyone from the village if the brothers allowed their parents to remain in the home.
“My sons are afraid that if we go back to home, their sons and daughters will not be married off in the Muslim society,” Sheikh said. “We are the first converted Christians in this village. Neighbors told my sons, ‘Why should your parents live in this village? They do not have right to live here because they are no longer Muslims.’”
The couple went to a shelter used by itinerant minstrels who sing traditional Bengali songs a half kilometer away from their home.
“I got salvation in Jesus,” Sheikh said. “In this shelter without food, I am ready to flirt with death by debilitating illness or by attack by Muslim neighbors, but never will I go back to Islam.”
The couple’s pastor, Jhontu Biswas, has met with their sons several times, most recently on Thursday (Jan. 8), to request that they take their parents back into their home. The sons would like to take them back but cannot because of the pressure from the Muslims, he said.
“Villagers put pressure on Sheikh’s sons that if they take back their newly converted Christian parents in home, their daughters will not be married off in the society,” said Biswas. “His younger son is trying to marry off his daughter who is not mature enough to get married. They are looking for a groom. He cannot take back his parents in the house until his daughter gets married.”
None of Biswas’ own relatives are Christians, and he said none of them are allowed to form any relationship with anyone in the Muslim society. Biswas said that Sheikh is ill and can do nothing but beg for his survival.
“He took shelter in the shelter, and believers in this area give him food,” said Biswas. “How long they will stay here is quite uncertain. Local believers are also very poor, and most of them are day laborers who live on the bread line. So how long will they provide food to him? Both of them are becoming ill day by day for lack of food.”
Framed as Terrorist
In Shoilbari village, five kilometers (three miles) away, a Christian convert from Islam told Compass that an elite Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) force comprising army, police, navy and air force detained him on Nov. 24 after finding bombs and other weapons behind his house that Muslim neighbors had placed there.
“In the evening around 15 to 16 believers along with our Pastor Biswas gathered in our house for Bible study,” said Ahsan Ali, 37. “My wife and three children were also present there. My Muslim neighbors told the elite force that local terrorists had gathered in my house to plan some terrorist activities in the locality.”
The RAB personnel came to Ali’s house and took him to their camp, where they interrogated him with torture, he said. The following morning, RAB intelligence officers came to the village to investigate charges against Ali.
“Elite force personnel asked many people in the village the following day, and they found no criminal activities against me and later released me,” said Ali.
The Assembly of God church began in the area about one and half years ago, with some 230 people coming to Christ since then.
Report from Compass Direct News
17 Turkish troops were killed in clashes with Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) rebels on Friday. 15 soldiers were killed and 2 abducted (there bodies were later recovered) following a cross-border ambush by PKK rebels.
The PKK is fighting for a Kurdish homeland in south-eastern Turkey. Since 1984, when the fighting began, some 40 000 people have been killed.
The PKK says it has sustained no casualties as a result of the Turkish attacks, despite there being numerous targets in the bombings. It is believed that several thousand PKK rebels are based in northern Iraq – a staging post for attacks on military targets inside Turkey.
The clashes have been the heaviest between the two forces since early this year.
The PKK is considered a terrorist organisation by the United States and the European Union.
BELOW: A report dealing with the PKK attacks in Turkey