Your prayers are needed for Christians in Myanmar following today's seizure of power by the military which saw civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi detained. Open Doors has expressed concern over the impact this could have on the country's Christians – many of whom already suffer at the hands of the country’s staunchly-Buddhist military.
The military coup in Myanmar could mean worsening persecution against Christians
Today’s news that the military in Myanmar has seized power and detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi raises the deeply worrying prospect of increased persecution of believers in the country, especially those from the Christian-majority Chin, Kachin and Shan states.
Despite being re-elected as the country’s leader in a landslide victory for the National League for Democracy (NLD) last November – in which the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) performed poorly – Aung San Suu Kyi and other members of the party, including President Win Myint, were arrested on Monday morning.
Following this, a statement on the military’s TV station said a one-year state of emergency had been declared and that commander-in-chief, Min Aung Hlaing, was now in power. The seizure of power is in response to what they believe was a fraudulent election victory.
“In the last half century, the junta [the military] has been systematically persecuting Christians. If this will happen now, remains to be seen,” says Jan Vermeer, Open Doors Communications Director for Asia. “For decades, believers have been oppressed and threatened by the army and this has largely been ignored by the world because they live in places that are really remote. The army has been very successful in keeping these regions isolated.”
"For decades, believers have been oppressed and threatened by the army..." Jan Vermeer
“As the military seizes power and detains the country's leaders, all communication lines like phone and internet have been cut off,” says a local Open Doors partner. Banks have closed and all TV channels (except for the military one) are unavailable. “We are cut off from our contacts inside the country, but we are doing our best to monitor the situation.”
Between 1962 and 2011, Myanmar was under the rule of the staunchly-Buddhist military, leading to systemic persecution of Christians, especially in the states of Chin and Kachin where almost 90 per cent of the population are believers. Churches have been closed and believers beaten. The military relinquished control in 2011, and in 2015 Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD formed a government, but persecution of Christians by the army has persisted.
In the latest World Watch List, Myanmar jumped one place to number 18, reflecting the ongoing persecution facing many Christians, who amount to only eight per cent (4.4 million) of the country's 54.8 million population. One of the findings from this year’s Open Doors report is that the army and pro-military government officials are highly influenced by Buddhist nationalist sentiment and often regard Christians as second-class citizens.
Insurgent groups also operate in the Christian-majority states – prolonging what is now the world’s longest-running civil war – and this only adds to the vulnerability of Christians. More than 100,000 Christians in the north live in Internal Displacement Camps (IDPs) where they are deprived of access to food and health care.
"As we wait for things to unfold in Myanmar, let’s be watchful" Jan Vermeer
There are other sources of persecution in Myanmar. Converts to the Christian faith face persecution from their families and communities for leaving, or ‘betraying’, the system of belief they grew up in. Communities who aim to stay ‘Buddhist only’ make life for Christian families impossible by not allowing them to use community resources such as water.
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought added challenges, since many Christians have been overlooked in the distribution of government aid.
“As we wait for things to unfold in Myanmar, let’s be watchful,” says Jan Vermeer. “Pray for God’s protection over His church. Pray that this new development would not harm our brothers and sisters in the Chin Hills.”
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