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17 October 2013

‘Global persecution of Christians is the unreported catastrophe of our time’ – persecution in Burma

An article for The Spectator earlier this month reported that 'global persecution of Christians is the unreported catastrophe of our time'. Referring to a statistic from the International Society for Human Rights, a secular observatory based on Germany, it revealed that Christians are victim to 80 per cent of all religious discrimination in the world today. The Evangelical Alliance is a member of the Religious Liberty Commission (RLC), aiming to raise awareness of the persecuted Church and encourage Christians to pray and act about this issue.

The Spectator article went on to describe the situation in Burma, where members of the strongly Christian Karen and Chin ethnic groups routinely face imprisonment, forced labour, torture and murder as they are considered to be dissidents.

Thousands of Burmese Christians are believed to have been killed in October 2010 when the Burmese military launched helicopter strikes on the territories where they lived. A reporter was told by a Burmese Air Force source that these areas had been declared 'black zones' by the junta, and military personnel were given authorisation to attack and kill any Christian targets they came across.

Burma is currently in transition, moving from a former military junta towards parliamentary democracy, and there are some hopeful signs of change. Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), a member of the RLC, has welcomed the release of many political prisoners, the participation of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her party (the National League for Democracy) in Parliament, increased space for civil society, political actors and the media, and the agreement of fragile, preliminary ceasefires with most armed ethnic resistance organisations.

However, the European Burma Network has warned that the Burmese government has not implemented any of the calls to action from last year's UN resolution on Burma, and for some Burmese the situation has got worse. Release International, a fellow RLC member, reports that the Burmese people still face forced labour, huge numbers have been forced from their homes and rape is used as a weapon of war against minorities. Religious persecution is also a weapon of war, with Christians being told "To be Burmese is to be Buddhist", and Christianity referred to by authorities as the "C-virus". The nation is 80 per cent Buddhist, 9 per cent Christian and 7.2 per cent Muslim.

Burma is 32nd on the World Watch List for persecution collated by Open Doors, a fourth RLC member. Ethnic and religious minorities, including Christians, still face severe repression in the country. For example:

  • Christians and Muslims are denied the right to maintain and build places of worship
  • a wave of anti-Muslim violence has occurred this year
  • in Chin state, crosses built on hillsides to express faith are torn down
  • in Karen state, churches are burnt and Buddhist propaganda is played during Christian services
  • Christians in the military or government are denied promotion.

CSW is therefore calling on the UN General Assembly, in its forthcoming annual resolution on Burma, to ask Burma to take urgent action to protect religious minorities from further violence, to urge leaders from all communities to speak out against religious intolerance and hatred, and to ensure that perpetrators of violence face justice.

How to respond:

  • pray for continued positive change in Burma and that ethnic and religious minorities will be able to live in peace and security
  • pray for persecuted Christians in Burma and across the world – consider showing the three-minute Religious Liberty Commission video in your service or small group and then dedicate time to pray
  • sign up to receive regular prayer alerts about persecuted Christians – these are available from CSW, Release International or Open Doors.