Burma Army soldiers disrupted a Christian conference and threatened an MP at gunpoint in western Chin State.
According to the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHR), the incident took place on March 10 during a gathering of more than 1,000 delegates from 80 local branches of the Mara (Chin) Evangelical Church in Sabawngte village in a remote area of Matupi Township in southern Chin State, close to Burma’s border with India.
Organizers of the event had obtained prior permission for the event from the Matupi Township General Administrative Office, in accordance with tight controls in place in Chin State over Christian gatherings.
Eyewitnesses reported to CHRO that several Burma Army soldiers including Captain Aung Zaw Hteik and Captain Myo Min Hteik from the Matupi-based Light Infantry Battalion 140, who are stationed at an army camp in the village, disrupted the gathering and rebuked the village headman for not reporting the event to the army camp.
Pu Van Cin, a Member of Parliament for the Ethnic National Development Party, saw the soldiers confronting the village headman. He tried to intervene and introduced himself as an MP to the officers.
According to witnesses, Captain Aung Zaw Hteik was in uniform, but Captain Myo Min Hteik, who is in charge of the Sabawngte army camp, was wearing civilian clothes. Captain Myo Min Hteik pointed a gun at Pu Van Cin’s stomach and said, “I don’t give a [expletive] about you being a Member of Parliament. We are not under the control of the Chin State authorities. We take orders from the North Western Regional Command.”
The soldiers continued to disrupt the conference for the rest of the day by patrolling in the village. At night, they stepped up their intimidation. Captain Myo Min Hteik, this time in full military uniform and carrying a gun, entered the makeshift church as the worship service was about to begin. Ten soldiers stood guard around the church. The soldiers spent the night in the village and returned to their camp the next day. The conference then continued without further disruption.
CHRO’s Program Director Salai Za Uk Ling said, “It is very difficult for Chin Christians to hold large gatherings without harassment and disruption. As far as we know, no legal or disciplinary action has been taken against these soldiers from LIB 140. They violated the right to freedom of religious assembly and threatened a Chin MP in front of dozens of witnesses, and clearly believe they are above the law. This incident highlights the problem of impunity in Burma, especially for members of the armed forces.”
Ethnic Chin from Burma are estimated to be 90 per cent Christian. Religious freedom violations – often cross-cutting with other human rights abuses, including the torture and mistreatment of Chin Christians at the hands of Burma Army soldiers – have been well documented by CHRO and other human rights groups.
The 2011 report “Life Under the Junta: Evidence of Crimes against Humanity in Burma’s Chin State" by the US-based Physicians for Human Rights found that 14 per cent of households surveyed had experienced group persecution on the basis of their ethnicity (Chin) and/or religion (Christian). The U.S. State Department has designated Burma a country of particular concern since 1999 for its poor record on religious freedom.
Although the armed resistance group the Chin National Front signed a preliminary cease-fire agreement with the Chin State government in January, Chin State remains heavily militarized, with 54 army camps stationed in nine township areas of the state.
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