BosNewsLife Asia Service
RANGOON, BURMA (BosNewsLife)– Dozens of British legislators expressed concern Tuesday, February 10, over reports of massive church closures in Burma, seen as “the most significant crackdown” on Christian activity in the military-ruled Asian nation in years, an advocacy group told BosNewsLife.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide said 33 British parliamentarians signed a motion urging the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion and Belief, Asma Jilani Jahangir, to investigate violations of religious freedom in Burma, as “at least 100 churches” were closed in the capital Rangoon last month.
The Early Day Motion was proposed by John Bercow, who co-chairs of the All Parliamentary Group for Democracy in Burma, also known as Myanmar, CSW said. “The church closures mark the most significant crackdown on Christian activity in Burma in recent years, affecting as many as 80 per cent of churches in Rangoon,” said CSW, which has investigated the situation in Burma.
The group said some 50 pastors were forced by authorities to sign documents promising to stop holding church services, “under threat of prison for non-compliance.”
Some local Christians have linked the reported, government backed, crackdown to church involvement in aid to victims of last year’s devastating Cyclone Nargis, which killed at least 140,000 people and displaced 800,000 more.
Aid workers have warned that the UN’s $482 million appeal to cover cyclone relief and recovery up to April 2009 remains unfunded.
Burma is categorized as a ‘Country of Particular Concern’ by the United States State Department for its apparent violations of religious freedom.
In 2007, CSW published a report, ‘Carrying the Cross: The military regime’s campaign of restriction, discrimination and persecution against Christians in Burma’ which revealed a 17-point document allegedly from an organisation affiliated to the Ministry of Religious Affairs, titled “Program to Destroy the Christian religion in Burma”. The first point states: “There shall be no home where the Christian religion is practiced.”
Burma’s ruling State Peace and Development Council, a group of generals, has consistently denied human rights abuses, describing reports to the contrary as “Western propaganda” and part of “American imperialism.”
However CSW Advocacy Director, Tina Lambert, told BosNewsLife that the “recent crackdown on Christian activity in Rangoon is a worrying development and a serious violation of religious freedom.”
Lambert said she was “delighted that John Bercow and other parliamentarians…call for respect for religious freedom in Burma, and for the regime to stop its policies of discrimination and persecution of religious minorities, particularly Christians and Muslims.”
CSW also welcomes their call to U.N. Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion and Belief, Asma Jahangir, to investigate and “hold Burma’s military regime accountable for their many human rights abuses”.