ICC NOTE: As Aung San Suu Kyi’s government begins to take shape, the question of whether religious freedom will take place in the historically repressive nation of Burma remains to be answered. Buddhist nationalists have maintained a tight grip on the country, placing offices and other location throughout Burma to enable their message a wider base to take hold. Muslim minorities have been the major target for the nationalist group, but ethnic minority Christians have been an equal target. Suu Kyi’s new democratic government was one of historic proportions with high expectations, among them religious freedom. However, at the moment it does not seem to be a priority for her or the newly elected government. As both Muslim and Christian minorities continue to face persecution from the military and Buddhist nationalists, the government seems to remain relatively silent on the issue.
4/4/2016 Myanmar (Christian Today) – Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi has campaigned for freedom and democracy in her country for decades, and paid the price. She spent 15 years under house arrest, accepting separation from her husband and children as the price of her commitment to her country. Her moral standing has been unimpeachable and her party’s victory in the election last year that saw the end of military rule was been hailed around the world.
She is constitionally barred from serving as president of Myanmar – also known as Burma – because of her marriage to a foreigner, Michael Aris (now deceased). But today, a bill allowing her appointment as a state counsellor with a role similar to that of a prime minister passed Myanmar’s upper house. It is certain to become law.
For the first time, Aung San Suu Kyi will have real power. However, along with the obvious problems her country faces – poverty, education, energy, health, the rebuilding of civil society after years of repression – is one that offers few returns in terms of votes, but has the potential to tarnish even a legacy such as hers.
Religious nationalism in Myanmar is a powerful force. The Patriotic Association of Myanmar, abbreviated to Ma Ba Tha, has offices across the country. It’s run by extremist Buddhist monks convinced Islam poses a deadly threat to Myanmar’s identity. It’s opposed to Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, seeing it as soft on Muslims and too open to Western influence. It supports laws severely restricting religious freedom.
One of its most outspoken advocates, Ashin Wirathu, has called Muslims ‘mad dogs’. Ma Ba Tha’s precursor, the ‘969’ movement, was implicated in violence in Rakhine state in 2012 that left more than 200 dead and a quarter of a million displaced. Many of them were Rohingya Muslims.
The Rohingya – to whom Myanmar denies citizenship, saying they migrated to the country from Bengal (though the Rohingya claim they are indigenous to Myanmar) – have borne the brunt of Buddhist nationalism. They face discrimination at every level. Many live in ghettos and refugee camps. Their land has been expropriated and given to Buddhist settlers. Violence, poverty and insecurity have driven many to take to boats in an effort to reach safety, as they believe, in Thailand; many have been left to drown.
But Buddhist nationalists have attacked Christian communities too. Myanmar ranks 23rd on Open Doors’ World Watch list for Christian persecution. Many Christians belong to ethnic minority groups – including Rohingyas – who are targeted by nationalists.