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Burma

United Wa State Army Continues Crackdown on Christians

18 Oct 2018

Within the past week, the United Wa State Army (UWSA) has expelled a group of eight Catholic clergy and laypeople from the Wa region in Burma’s Shan State, which is near the Chinese border. The case is the latest indicator of an increasing crackdown on Christians in the region.

Two priests, three nuns, and three lay teachers were expelled following an expulsion order issued on 12 October aimed at clergy who arrived in the region after 1992. Last month, another priest, five nuns, and six teachers were similarly expelled.

The expulsions are part of a campaign of increased targeting of Christians by the UWSA that has been observed in the region since 13 September. According to the Union of Catholic and Asian News (UCAN), pastors have been detained, churches destroyed and shut down, and religious schools closed as part of a crackdown on what the UWSA has referred to as religious extremists.

The UWSA has announced that all churches built after 1992 were constructed illegally and will be destroyed, and has forbidden the construction of new churches. Five churches have reportedly been destroyed and 52 have been shut down. Furthermore, undated videos have emerged online which appear to show UWSA officials destroying crosses.

Last week, reports emerged of approximately one hundred Christians who were released by the UWSA after being forced to sign pledges stating that they would only pray privately in their homes. Days later, religious leaders in the region reported that 41 male and female Bible students had been forcibly recruited into the UWSA.

Benedict Rogers, CSW’s East Asia Team Leader, said: “The scale, suddenness and severity of this crackdown is profoundly concerning. We urge the international community to monitor this situation closely and consider what action could be taken to protest at this repression and protect the Christians in UWSA-controlled areas.”

Rogers added: “The influence, at some level, of the Chinese authorities appears to be a factor driving this persecution, which is an alarming indication of the extension of China’s influence and repression beyond its borders. Religious and ethnic minorities in Burma are already facing a rise in persecution at the hands of the Burma Army and a militant Buddhist nationalist movement, but this particular crackdown appears to be related more to China’s influence, with economic, security and political interests at play. If Burma is to have any chance of peace and any hope of democracy, it must respect basic human rights for all its people of all religions and ethnicities, and protect freedom of religion or belief for all. Violations of freedom of religion or belief, whether by the Burma Army, militant Buddhist nationalists, ethnic armed groups or by China extending its repression beyond its borders are unacceptable and must be held accountable.”

Notes to Editors

1.    Burma’s Wa region is home to multiple ethnic groups including the Wa, Kachin, Ta'ang, Lahu, Lisu, Kokang and Shan who observe various religions including Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and Spiritism. Christians comprise around 30 percent of the estimated 450,000 Wa population.

2.    According to UCAN, the UWSA are being backed by the Chinese government. China shares a border with Burma, and a similar increased crackdown on religious groups in the country has been observed in recent months.

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