10. The Freedom of Belief and Religion

 

"Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” - Article 18, Universal Declaration of Human Rights 

10.1 Background

10.2 Religious Discrimination against Christians

10.3 Religious Discrimination against Muslims

10.4 SPDC Control over Buddhism

10.1 Background

 

Burma is a predominantly Buddhist country with 90 percent of the population adhering to the Buddhist tradition according to official statistics. For the ethnic Burman majority and also the Mon, the Shan and the Rakhine (from Arakan State) ethnic minorities, Buddhism is the primary religion with Theravada being the most widely practiced form of Buddhism in Burma. The Christian population makes up around four percent of the population. The Chin and Kachin communities are largely Christian while the Karen and Karenni populations practice Christianity alongside Buddhism. Most Christians in Burma are Baptists. Roman Catholics, Anglicans and other Protestant groups also have an established presence in Burma. According to official statistics, four percent of the population is Muslim. Muslim leaders however dispute these figures and argue that followers of the Islam faith comprise 14 to 20 percent of the population. While there are Muslim communities throughout the country, the Islam faith is particularly visible in Arakan State where it is the primary religion of the Rohingya minority. The Muslim population is primarily Sunni. The remaining two percent of religions represented in Burma include forms of animism, Hinduism and even a small Jewish population in Rangoon. (Source: International Religious Freedom Report-2005, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 8 November 2005).

 

Although there is no official state religion of Burma, the junta has actively promoted Buddhism over other religions. Buddhist doctrine remains part of the mandated curriculum for all primary level school children. Students are required to recite a Buddhist prayer everyday and only some schools allow Muslim students to opt out of Buddhist recitations. Since the military seized power in 1962, non-Buddhist minority religions have been marginalized. In 2005, for the sixth consecutive year, Burma was designated by the U.S. Secretary of State as a “Country of Particular Concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act for particularly severe violations of religious freedom. Members of minority religious groups continue to suffer from persecution, abuse, and severe discrimination by the military regime. Muslim and Christian groups, in particular, experience difficulty in obtaining permission to build new places of worship or repair existing ones. Required national identification cards indicating religious affiliations have led to the harassment and persecution of non-Buddhists by the regime. Meanwhile, non-Buddhists are constantly pressured and forced to convert. (Source: International Religious Freedom Report-2005, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 8 November 2005).

 

The junta-imposed guidelines for the constitutional drafting sessions of the National Convention recognize the existence of minority religions in Burma and state that “citizens in the State should have the right to freely profess any faith of their choice.” However, the guidelines also indicate religious groups should be denied any opportunity to engage in or influence politics (source: “The State Also Recognizes Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and Animism as Some Religions Existing in the Union on the Date of the Coming into Force of the State Constitution,” NLM, 11 January 2006). This limitation could potentially provide justification for sustained surveillance and restrictions on the activities of religious groups. At present, SPDC personnel continue to infiltrate and monitor the meetings and actions of virtually all religious groups, Buddhists included. Meanwhile non-Buddhists are heavily underrepresented in the public sphere. Promotions and leadership positions within the military regime are reserved for Buddhists. (Source: International Religious Freedom Report-2005, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 8 November 2005).

 

Theravada Buddhism, despite being the regime-preferred religion, is not free from interference. All monastic orders, apart from nine recognized by the junta, are considered illegal. Furthermore, monks are not accorded any special leniency due to their religious positions. Monks who are deemed to be in violation of the law are subject to the same punishment and abuse as other transgressors. In addition to the standard terms of punishment, monks are often also subject to public defrocking. Efforts by monks to promote human rights and political freedoms in Burma have been met with severe repercussions by the regime. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), reported that 76 monks continued to languish in the prisons of Burma in 2005 for politically related reasons. (Sources: International Religious Freedom Report-2005, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 8 November 2005; AAPP, 2005).

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10.2 Religious Discrimination against Christians

 

Members of the Christian minority have been suppressed by successive military regimes since the seizure of power in 1962. In the mid 1960’s nearly all foreign missionaries were expelled and Christian schools and hospitals nationalized. While foreign clergy have in the past been allowed to enter the country on tourist visas, their supporting organizations must be careful not to give off the impression of proselytizing the local population, which is strictly prohibited by the regime. To limit proselytizing, Christian ministers attempting to relocate to new townships have been denied resident permits. Furthermore, printing and importing of bibles and other religious literature in ethnic languages is heavily restricted by the regime. Those found producing or in possession of such material are subject to arrest and confiscation of the illicit material. (Source: International Religious Freedom Report-2005, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 8 November 2005).

 

Christian groups have been denied permission to construct new churches or other religious meeting places. On 9 September 2005, it was reported that the junta terminated the construction of a new Baptist church in Tachileik, Shan State without justification (source: “Junta Closes Popular Rangoon Church,” Irrawaddy, 9 September 2005). Permission to repair dilapidated worship structures has also been withheld. While some groups have been given unofficial permission to build small meeting places in inconspicuous locations, these establishments remain subject to closure at the will of the authorities. There continued to be reports of church closures and bans on home prayer services. Some churches, particularly in Rangoon, have been forced to pay bribes to the authorities in order to remain open (source: International Religious Freedom Report-2005, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 8 November 2005). The most significant church closure during 2005 was the Full Gospel Assembly, a rapidly growing church in Rangoon, which was ordered to cease all its activities in September 2005 (source: “Junta Closes Popular Rangoon Church,” Irrawaddy, 9 September 2005).

 

The people of Chin State have been particularly affected by religiously motivated abuses perpetrated by the regime. Because Christianity is integral to the identity of the majority of the Chin people, the junta has been particularly heavy-handed with implementing a campaign of Burmanization in Chin State. Through Burmanization, the regime has attempted to create a Burma of “One race, One Language, One Religion.” To dilute and eradicate the religious practices in Chin State, the regime has made extensive efforts to convert Christians to Buddhism through aggressive conversion drives and forced conversion campaigns. SPDC soldiers have been offered incentives to marry and convert Chin women. Furthermore, Chin Christian children have been forced into monasteries. The regime has also demolished churches and Christian religious symbols. Sites of former Christian structures have then been replaced with Buddhist pagodas, which have been constructed through the forced labor of Chin Christians. Abuses against members of the Christian faith are rampant in Chin State. Christians, including church leaders and ministers, have been tortured and killed for their beliefs. (Source: Religious Persecution: A Campaign of Ethnocide Against Chin Christians in Burma, CHRO, February 2004).

 

Persecution of Christians - Partial List of Incidents for 2005

 

Chin State

 

On 3 January 2005, a large concrete cross that had stood on a hill in Matupi Township for decades was destroyed by SPDC IB 304 under the command of Col. San Aung sparking protests in Chin communities abroad. Later in the year, it was reported that there were plans to build a Buddhist pagoda on the former cross site. There were also reports of demands for material and labor for the pagoda construction. (Source: “Ethnic Groups Condemn Junta’s Brutality Against Religion in Burma” Kaladan News, 25 January 2005).

 

On 2 February 2005, it was reported that 20 predominantly Christian villages from Shinletwa village tract, Paletwa Township were forced by the SPDC LIB 354 to assist in the construction of a Buddhist Monastery near Shinletwa army camp. Camp Comdr. Lt. Thein Lwin ordered the headman of each of the 20 villages to collect 5,000 kyat per household no later than 15 January 2005 to fund the transportation of cement for the monastery. Villagers were also forced to provide labor or money to relocate the Shinletwa army camp in order to make way for the new monastery. Pathianthang and Para village tracts were told to provide 70,000 kyat and 50,000 kyat respectively to fund the relocation process. (Source: “Chin Christians Forced to Contribute Money and Labor for Construction of Buddhist Monastery,” Rhododendron News, CHRO, January-February 2005).

 

On 5 May 2005, it was reported that villagers in and around Sabawngte village, Maputi Township were ordered by Deputy Battalion Comdr. Maj. Hla Myint of SPDC LIB 140 to donate one tin of sand per household for the construction of a Buddhist monastery being built inside the army camp. The inhabitants of Hlung Mang village were also forced to contribute 25 bags of cement. (Source: “Chin Christians Forced to Supply Construction Materials for New Buddhist Monastery,” Rhododendron News, CHRO, May-June 2005).

 

On 8 June 2005, Col. San Aung, commander of Tactical Command No. 2, forced more than 300 local Christians in Matupi Township to attend the opening ceremony of a new Buddhist pagoda. Construction on the pagoda, named Maha Thandi Thuta Aung, began in May. “Invitations” were sent out to all civil servants and community leaders of the area, with Col. San Aung and his wife Daw Htay Htay Lwin acting as hosts of the event. (Source: “Local Christians Forced to Attend Opening Ceremony of Buddhist Pagoda,” Rhododendron News, CHRO, July-August 2005).

 

On 18 June 2005, it was reported that Col. San Aung, commander of SPDC Tactical Command No. 2, announced during a public meeting, “I have the power to destroy any symbols and monuments, except Gen. Aung San, for the betterment of the people.” It is speculated that this announcement was made to justify the dismantling of two Christian crosses and the destruction of at least 20 houses without compensation in Matupi Township. The announcement came after radio reports criticized his actions. Radio Free Asia, Voice of America and Democratic Voice of Burma reported the destruction of a large cross in Boltlang. (Source: “SPDC Commander Justify His Barbaric Action,” Rhododendron News, CHRO, May-June 2005).

 

On 14 November 2005, it was reported that the military destroyed a village in Chin State after plans were exposed to build a new church and school in the village. No further details were available. (Source: Mission News Network, 14 November 2005).

 

Rangoon Division

 

On 9 September 2005, it was reported that the Full Gospel Assembly in downtown Rangoon, had been ordered by the junta to cease all activities. The church had operated several programs in Rangoon, including Bible training courses, women’s and youth meetings, weekly worship services and monthly fasting and prayer. (Source: “Junta Closes Popular Rangoon Church,” Irrawaddy, 9 September 2005).

 

On 5 December 2005, it was reported that various Christian groups have been denied places of worship in Rangoon. Some pastors were forced to sign a blank sheet of paper that purportedly would be later filled in by the junta agreeing to the closures. Despite the fact that Buddhists use the public address system during their daily worship services, the junta has justified the ban on services on the basis that the noise is a public nuisance. The groups, of different denominations, have all been forced to conduct services at the Fundamental Far East Theological College, despite the fact that time and space is severely limited, especially on Sundays. (Source: “Conversion to Christianity on the Rise Despite Being Denied Places of Worship,” Khonumthung, 5 December 2005).

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10.3 Religious Discrimination against Muslims

 

The Muslim population of Burma can be divided into four distinct groups, all of who follow the Sunni sect of Islam. The ethnically Chinese Hui generally live in Mandalay and the North. Muslims of Indian and Pakistani descent are found throughout Burma, particularly in the larger cities. Those who are ethnically Burman are thought to have been converted between the 9th and 14th centuries by Islamic merchants and scholars. The final group and most oppressed of the Muslims living in Burma are the Rohingya who speak a Bengali dialect and live mostly in Northern Arakan State. (Source: “Myanmar's Muslim Sideshow,” Asian Times, 20 October 2003).

 

Like the Christian population in Burma, the junta largely interferes with the religious freedom of Muslims in the country. Muslims have been denied permission to build new mosques and have also experienced difficulty in obtaining permission to repair or expand existing religious structures. Furthermore, the authorities have arbitrarily and without notice ordered the closure of several Muslim worship centers. Those holding religious services in unofficially registered venues have been subject to arrest and severe punishment. The authorities have also prohibited Muslim celebrations and ceremonies without advanced permission. Even when permission is granted, the terms are often restrictive. (Source: International Religious Freedom Report-2005, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 8 November 2005).

 

In addition to restrictions on their religious practices, Muslims also face abuse and discrimination based on their religious orientation. Muslims are subject to severe travel restrictions and are required to request permission from township authorities to travel outside their home villages. Such permission is frequently withheld from Rohingya and Rakhine Muslims while other Muslims are typically required to furnish a bribe. Bribes are also required to obtain National Registration Cards and passports, which are necessary documents for all forms of travel (source: International Religious Freedom Report-2005, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 8 November 2005). Furthermore, the NaKaPa, border security forces in Arakan State, have been inspecting Muslim households to ensure that all family members are present and that the household is fully registered. Absent family members risk being deleted from the household registration lists, which could result in future repercussions (source “Nasaka Begins Operation to Check Registry of Burmese Muslim Family Members Along Border Area Narinjara News, 4 June 2005).

 

Tensions between the Muslim and dominant Buddhist populations have frequently ruptured into violence, often under speculations of provocation by the SPDC. Following the 30 May 2003 attacks on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and NLD supporters near Depayin, Sagaing Division, clashes broke out between Buddhists and Muslims in Rangoon and Kyaukse. It was believed that the junta orchestrated the riots as a method of deflecting interest in the incident at Depayin (source: International Religious Freedom Report-2005, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 8 November 2005). Buddhist-Muslim violence also broke out on 20 January 2005 in Kyauk Pru, Arakan State after a Muslim street sweeper allegedly insulted a group of Buddhist monks near Naga Pariyeti Sathin Thik monastery. The street sweeper that provoked the violence was a known informant for the local army post. The clashes lasted several days and left three Muslims dead, including a religious teacher. The regime used the incident to justify an increase of security in the region, including tightening movement restrictions and cutting all telephone lines in the area (sources: “54 Burmese Muslims Arrested While Illegally Entering Bangladesh,” Narinjara News, 1 February 2005; “Religious Riot in Arakan State Narinjara News, 1 February 2005). Furthermore, on 22 June 2005, it was reported that the Chief Secretary of the USDA and Industry Minister, U Aung Thaung, had plans to distribute anti-Muslim propaganda and destroy the property of Muslim activists in Mandalay Division then blame the NLD in an attempt to provoke religious riots (source: “New Strategies Dreamt Up by Burma Junta to Destroy NLD,” DVB, 22 June 2005).

 

The Situation of Discrimination Against Rohingya

 

The Rohingya are a distinct Muslim ethnic group living predominantly in the northern Arakan State townships of Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung. The Rohingya speak a dialect of Bengali and are considered to be ethnically and religiously related to the Chittagonian people of southern Bangladesh. Estimates place the Rohingya population of Arakan State at between 700,000 and 1.5 million, approximately 50 percent of Arakan State's population. The Rohingya experience severe legal, economic, social and religious discrimination. This, in part, stems from the fact that the junta does not recognize Rohingya as one of the 135 “national races” of Burma. (Source: The Rohingya Minority: Fundamental Rights Denied, AI, May 2004). (For more information, see Chapter 8 Rights of Ethnic Minorities).

 

Rohingya Muslims in northern Arakan State continued to face severe travel restrictions in 2005, which prevented them from moving from village to village, let alone throughout the country. Despite the disbanding of the NaSaKa on 19 October 2004 with the ouster of Gen. Khin Nyunt, the junta maintained a border security force in Arakan State, renaming it the NaKaPa in January 2005. Beginning on 1 October 2005, Muslims living in Sittwe have been banned from traveling outside the Sittwe area (source: The Arakan Project, 9 November 2005). Rohingyas living elsewhere were also required to obtain permission in advance to travel outside their home villages. The authorities, meanwhile, imposed a curfew and beginning in January 2005 all the VPDC Chairmen in Maungdaw and Buthidaung Township in Arakan State were ordered by NaKaPa commanders to begin fencing in each village. Although the fences were ostensibly for security reasons despite the virtual absence of potential infiltrators, Rohingya villagers believed they were more likely erected to contain villagers. (Source: Forum-Asia, 26 May 2005).

 

Due to their inability to travel freely, Rohingya villagers face tremendous difficulties in securing food sources outside their villages, including from their own remotely located farms. Furthermore, Rohingya have been required to purchase travel permits to collect World Food Program (WFP) humanitarian aid food rations. Due to this situation, Rohingya in Arakan State are particularly vulnerable to starvation. (Source: “Junta Restrictions Cause Food Shortages Among Rohingyas,” Irrawaddy, 23 September 2005). (For more information see Chapter 12 Freedom of Assembly, Association, and Movement).

 

Following the removal of Khin Nyunt, the Rohingya briefly enjoyed relief from previously imposed marriage restrictions in the townships of northern Arakan. In 2005, the restrictions were reinstated and extended to include the central Arakan townships of Kyauk Pyu and Ramree. Rohingya youth have often been arbitrarily accused of violating the marriage ban and subjected to arrest, extortion and harassment. While some Rohingya have married in secret, others have fled the country in order to marry without obstacle. (Source: International Religious Freedom Report-2005, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 8 November 2005).

 

To dilute the Muslim population in Arakan State, the junta has continued to establish “model villages” to resettle both Rakhine and Burman Buddhists onto Muslim land in northern Arakan State. As many as 39 “model villages” currently exist in northern Arakan State (source: “Nasaka Forcibly Extracts Labor and Donation from Rohingya Villagers,” Kaladan News, 18 October 2004). On 7 September 2005, 50 Buddhist families were brought in from Rangoon for resettlement in Taragu village tract. Rohingyas reportedly were forced to build houses for the new arrivals (source: “50- Family of New Buddhist Settlers Brought into Northern Arakan from Rangoon,” Kaladan News, 6 October 2005). The resettlement campaign continued in January 2006 with the junta expanding its recruiting efforts by providing incentives to Buddhists living in Bangladesh to relocate to northern Arakan State. Fifty-two Buddhist families, approximately 257 persons, had already been granted approval to relocate to NaSaKa region 3 in early 2006 (source: “Burma Offers Bangladeshi Buddhists to Settle in Northern Arakan,” Narinjara News, 3 January 2006).

 

Persecution of Muslims - Partial List of Incidents for 2005

 

The SPDC imposed various restrictions and demands on Muslims in Arakan State celebrating Eid-ul-Adha on 21 and 22 January. Prayers were not allowed to be conducted at the Eid-Ghah, an open area of worship, and religious ceremonies in Mosques were restricted. The SPDC also extorted money and meat during Eid-ul-Adha. Muslims had to furnish payment of a “tax” of 1,000-1,500 kyat in addition to 300 kyat for each goat and 10 kilograms of meat for each cattle slaughtered. Furthermore Muslims in Maungdaw, Buthidaung, Rathidaung and Akyab Townships were prohibited from moving or gathering in large numbers. (Source: “Muslims Complain of Military Extortion During Religious Festival in Arakan,” Kaladan News, 25 January 2005).

 

In June 2005, 8 Muslims including the local imam were arrested for holding group prayers at the imam’s house in Shwepitha Township, Rangoon Division. By November 2005, they still had not been released. (Source: International Religious Freedom Report-2005, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 8 November 2005).

 

In June 2005, the local authorities banned a Muslim private tutor from continuing his teaching activities in Rangoon Division. Although he was teaching only the public school curriculum, he was charged with conducting free courses to convert local children to Islam. (Source: International Religious Freedom Report-2005, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 8 November 2005).

 

On 26 August 2005, Rashid Duhul, a 22-year-old Muslim student from Sittwe University, Arakan State, was attacked by a group of USDA members and died 3 days later from his injuries (source: “Burma Arakan Muslim Student Killed by ‘Unknown’ Thugs,” DVB, 4 September 2005).

 

On 8 November 2005, it was reported that a Muslim cleric in South Dagon, Rangoon Division was arrested for holding Qur’an courses for Muslim children at his house (source: International Religious Freedom Report-2005, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 8 November 2005).

 

On 26 November 2005, a Rohingya, 55-year-old Oli Ahmed, was arrested for failing to conclude a religious lecture held on 10 November 2005 within the permitted time period. The lecture went overtime by only a few minutes. As a result, Oli Ahmed was sentenced on 29 November 2005 to 10 months imprisonment with hard labor under Police Act No.49, Raki 932/05. In addition, following the violation, the use of loudspeakers to broadcast the Azan (call to prayer) was banned. (Source: “A Rohingya Elite Jailed for Not Concluding Religious Lecture Within Fixed Time,Kaladan News, 19 December 2005).

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10.4 SPDC Control over Buddhism

 

There are over 400,000 Buddhist monks and novices in Burma who are supported by donations from the Buddhist population. As the dominant religion of the country and the religion of the ethnic Burmans, Theravada Buddhism enjoys a privileged place in the development of Burma’s history. In pre-colonial times, the king’s legitimacy was linked to his patronage of the Sangha, which is the Buddhist clergy. A head abbot called a Tha Tha Na Baing appointed by the king controlled the Sangha. When the British abolished the monarchy in 1886, they neglected to continue this role as head of the religion, which led to a lack of central control in the Sangha. During the anti-British nationalist movement of the 1920’s and 1930’s politicized monks were a common sight and some of Burma’s earliest nationalist heroes, such as the ethnic Rakhine U Ottama, were monks. This active role in politics has continued up to the present day.

 

Political awareness within the monastery has pitted some monks against the regime resulting in instances of tragic consequences. Six hundred monks were killed during the 1988 August pro-democracy uprising. On 8 August 1990, on the second anniversary of the pro-democracy uprising, over 7,000 monks took to the streets of Mandalay to peacefully collect alms from the people. The army retaliated to this peaceful protest by attacking the monks. Two monks were killed and 17 others were wounded in the attack. In response to the army's brutal actions, the Monks’ Union (Sangha Samaggi) of Mandalay, led by Ven. Yewata, declared pattam nikkujjana kamma, “overturning the bowl.” In solidarity, monks from across Burma joined in “overturning the bowl” and refused alms from military personal and their families as well as boycotted religious services organized by members of the regime. (Source: Burma: A Land Where Buddhist Monks are Disrobed and Detained in Dungeons, AAPP, November 2004).

 

In response to political opposition within the monastery, the regime arrested and disrobed the leader of the 1990 protests, Ven. Yewata. In addition, the regime issued orders to control the Sangha and punish monks who opposed the regime. On 20 October 1990, the regime issued Order 6/90 banning all Sangha organizations as “unlawful” except for nine. The nine orders recognized by the junta are under the authority of the junta-sponsored State Monk Coordination Committee (Sangha Maha Navaka Committee – SMNC). On 21 October 1990, the regime also issued Order 7/90 which allowed for monks to be brought before a military tribunal for “activities inconsistent with and detrimental to Buddhism.” Under this law, monks could be disrobed and imprisoned for participating in protests or boycotts. Punishments ranged from three years imprisonment to death. Finally, on 30 October 1990 the junta established a code of conduct for Buddhist monks, violations of which are punishable by criminal penalties. (Source: Burma: A Land Where Buddhist Monks are Disrobed and Detained in Dungeons, AAPP, November 2004).

 

Buddhist monks continued to be persecuted under accusations of involvement in political activities or support of armed resistance groups throughout 2005. For example, in June 2005, it was reported that monks in Nyaung U, Mandalay Division, were forbidden from participating in celebrations for Aung San Suu Kyi’s 60th birthday. The authorities also banned a local religious association from contributing to the celebrations. When it was discovered that NLD members had been accepted at a number of monasteries the local authority chairman, Maj. Tayza, reportedly summoned and rebuked religious leaders (source: “Monks Told Not to Participate in Aung San Suu Kyi’s Birthday in Burma,” DVB, 21 June 2005). Furthermore, the SPDC has continued to restrict the activities of the Buddhist clergy in an attempt to stifle potential political influence over the populace. Following the Rangoon bombings on 7 May 2005, on 17 July 2005 it was reported that the authorities required registration of all persons, including monks, who intended to remain overnight in monasteries during Buddhist lent. Monks were also required to remain in the same monastery for the entire 3 month period of lent (source: “Monks are Targeted as a Result of Burma's Security Scare,” Narinjara News, 17 July 2005). Buddhist festivals organized by villagers were also heavily restricted by the SPDC.

 

Meanwhile, the military has attempted to derive legitimacy through its public patronage of Buddhism. SPDC officials have often been portrayed in the media attending religious services and supporting the monastery. The junta has also sponsored projects to construct, renovate or maintain Buddhist shrines and monuments. However, villagers, particularly in rural areas, have often been compelled to contribute donations of food, money or materials to the projects. (Source: International Religious Freedom Report-2005, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 8 November 2005).

 

Persecution of Buddhists - Partial List of Incidents for 2005

 

In January 2005, villagers in Ohn Pin Kwin and Phaung Daw villages, Yebyu Township, Tenasserim Division were forced to pay 200,000 kyat per village to SPDC LIB 273 Comdr. Moe San Winn for permission to hold a traditional Buddhist festival. Comdr. Moe San Winn justified the payment as necessary to ensure the security of the nearby Total gas pipeline during the festival. (Source: “Taxation by LIB No. 273,” HURFOM, 9 September 2005).

 

In February 2005, the SPDC Comdr. of the Special Triangle Region ordered from Mandalay a new headdress for a Buddha statue in Kaeng-Tung town and required villagers in Kaeng-Tung, Murng-Sart and Ta-Khi-Laek Townships to contribute money for its costs and a ceremony. Although the headdress only cost 1,500,000 kyat, the authorities collected 20,500,000 kyat by 17 February 2005. Nonetheless, after the ceremony, the Comdr. continued to extort money from villagers until the sum reached 100 million kyat. (Source: “Situation of Extortion in Kaeng-Tung, Murng-Sart and Ta-Khi-Laek,” SHRF Monthly Report, SHRF, June 2005).

 

In March 2005, it was reported that villagers in Kaeng Tawng sub-township, Murng-Nai Township had been fined 200,000 kyat for refusing to attend a religious ceremony organized by the SPDC on 23 and 24 March 2005. (Source: “Religion Used For Extorting Money in Murng-Nai,” SHRF Monthly Report, SHRF, June 2005).

 

In May 2005, following the declaration of an independent Shan State Federal Government by a little known Shan group, the authorities arrested several Shan villagers, including Buddhist monks. Tae-Zin-Da, a Buddhist monk from Wan Paang village in Wan Hai village tract, Murng-Nai Township, Shan State was arrested and his monastery burned down by SPDC troops under the command of LIB515. Pan-Nya-Sa-Mi of Hin He monastery in Murng Nawng village in Kae-See Township was also arrested by local SPDC troops. (Source: “Arrest and Detention, Forced Labour and Extortion in Central Shan State,” SHRF Monthly Report, SHRF, August 2005).

 

On 14 July 2005, a Buddhist nun, Daw Thitsar Wadi, was arrested in Rangoon after being accused of having links with overseas opposition groups. (Source: “Buddhist Nun Arrested in Rangoon,” Narinjara News, 14 June 2005).

 

On 8 November 2005, 15 Buddhist monks from Bop Htaw village, Kao Jear sub-town, southern Ye Township, Mon State fled to the Thai-Burma border fearing arrest by the SPDC after being accused of supporting the Mon resistance groups. (Source: “15 Buddhist Monks Flee Mon State Fearing Persecution,” Kaowao News, 15 November 2005).

 

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Facts on Human Rights Violations