March 2012

 

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Burma Army Soldiers Disrupt Christian Conference, Threaten MP at Gunpoint in Chin State

Chin Human Rights Organization


Burma army soldiers disrupted a Christian conference and threatened a member of Parliament (MP) at gunpoint in western Burma’s Chin State, the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) has learned.

The incident took place on March 10, 2012, during a gathering of more than 1,000 delegates from 80 local branches of the Mara (Chin) Evangelical Church in the village of Sabawngte 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 Capt. Aung Zaw Hteik and Capt. Myo Min Hteik from the Matupi-based Light Infantry Battalion (LIB)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 MP from the Ethnic National Development Party (ENDP) elected to the Chin State Parliament in Burma’s November 2010 elections, saw the soldiers confronting the village headman. He tried to intervene and introduced himself as a MP to the officers. According to witnesses, Capt. Aung Zaw Hteik was in uniform, but Capt. Myo Min Hteik, who is in charge of the Sabawngte army camp, was only wearing civilian clothes. Capt. 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 Northwestern 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. Capt. Myo Min Hteik, this time in full military uniform and carrying his gun, entered the makeshift church as the worship service was about to begin. Ten other 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.

Salai Za Uk Ling, CHRO’s program director, 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 LIB140. 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.”

The ethnic Chin from Burma are estimated to be 90 percent Christian. Religious freedom violations—often cross-cutting with other human rights abuses, including the torture and ill-treatment 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 U.S.-based Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) found that 14 percent of households surveyed had experienced group persecution on the basis of their ethnicity (Chin) and/or religion (Christian). The U.S. State Dept. has designated Burma a country of particular concern since 1999 for its poor record on religious freedom.
Although the Chin armed resistance group, the Chin National Front (CNF), signed a preliminary ceasefire agreement with the Chin state government in January this year, Chin State remains heavily militarized with 54 Burma army camps in all nine main township areas of the state.


* The Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) was formed by a group of Chin activists who began monitoring human rights in Chin State and western Burma along the borders with India and Bangladesh in 1995. It is based in Canada with branch offices in India, Thailand and the United States.