Unique Challenges Facing Myanmar’s Christians Amid Coup

By Gina Goh

An image of the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) that took place in Yangon in opposition to the coup. Photo credit: Htet Aung Moe

03/01/2021 Myanmar (International Christian Concern) – It has been a month since the Tatmadaw (Burmese Army) kidnapped the de facto leader of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, along with other National League for Democracy (NLD) leaders, in an attempt to overthrow the civilian government.

As hundreds of thousands of citizens take to the streets to oppose the coup, they are unsure about what their country’s future would look like if Tatmadaw succeeded in its plot to rule the nation again with an iron fist.

Among them, there are people from the country’s religious and ethnic minority groups who fear that the return of Tatmadaw will mean further targeting and crackdown, which could threaten their lives.

In this series, ICC will feature several Christian groups who have historically faced oppression and persecution in Myanmar. How will the coup impact them? What will be at stake for them?

The articles will focus on Kachin (both in Kachin state and Shan state), Chin (both in Chin and Rakhine state), Rohingya, Karen, Christians in Wa state, and ethnic Indian/Chinese Christians and the unique challenges faced by them.

Kachin
The ceasefire breakdown between the Tatmadaw and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in 2011 has resulted in 100,000 Kachin fleeing their home. The Christian-majority Kachin people have had a long history of armed conflicts with the Tatmadaw. In an effort to crack down KIA’s secession attempt and their Christian identity, the Tatmadaw has destroyed churches, abducted villagers, raped women, or killed innocent civilians.

Chin
Ethnic Chin has over 90% of members as Christians. They face an unspoken forced assimilation policy known as ‘Burmanization,’ which seeks to ethnically, culturally, linguistically, and religiously homogenize the ethnic minority areas of the country. It is not uncommon for them to be coerced into converting to Buddhism, the state’s majority religion. Those who live in Rakhine state often get caught in the fight between the Tatmadaw and the Arakan Army (AA) and face brutal oppression from both sides. Up north in Chin state, intense fighting also has displaced more than 160,000 people.

Rohingya Christians
While the international community is very familiar with the Rohingya Muslim persecution, the Rohingya Christians have often been overlooked, since they are considered the minority of the minorities. Even after their escape to nearby Bangladesh, they still face persecution from their fellow Rohingya Muslims and rarely receive attention and support.

Karen
Ethnic Karen was the first to convert to Christianity in Myanmar. Although only at 20% of the ethnic group, Karen Christians also have a secession goal. With that, they are seen as the enemy by the Tatmadaw and heavily targeted. Tens of thousands fled the country due to religious and political suppression and currently reside in Thailand-Myanmar border as internally displaced people (IDPs).

Wa state
Though not officially recognized by the international community, Wa state is a de-facto self-governed state within Myanmar. It has close ties to China and operates much like a small Chinese city. With its communist ideology, the United Wa State Army (UWSA) despises Christianity and seeks to minimize the influence of Christianity. They model after the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and clamp down on Christian churches the same manner CCP does.

Ethnic Indian/Chinese

Although not suffering as much as other Christian minority groups, the ethnic Indian and Chinese often face systematic discrimination when it comes to the issuance of their national identification cards and marriage. They often have to wait for years until they can receive proper documentation due to their religious belief.

For interviews please contact Alison Garcia: press@persecution.org.

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