SANTA ANA, Calif. (ABP) — A local government in Myanmar ordered a Baptist church to cease worship services after the pastor refused to wear an election campaign T-shirt supporting the country's ruling military junta, Compass Direct News reported Nov. 18.
The California-based news service that monitors violations of religious liberty against Christians said election officials in the western Chin state, which borders India, summoned 47-year-old Pastor Mang Tling of Dawdin village on Nov. 9, two days after Myanmar's elections, and ordered him to stop holding services and discontinue the church nursery program.
Citing a report by the Chin Human Rights Organization, the news agency said the pastor had refused to wear an election campaign T-shirt supporting the government's Union Solidarity and Development Party. The United Nations has condemned Myanmar's Nov. 7 election as neither free nor fair.
The Chin Human Rights Organization works against human rights abuses, including religious discrimination, for the Chin people, a minority group estimated to be 90 percent Christian.
The group reports a long history of discrimination against the Chin that includes destruction of crosses and other Christian monuments, state-sponsored efforts to expand Buddhism, arrest and detention and torture. Leaders reserve particularly harsh treatment for pastors. Officials have refused construction for all new church building projects since 2003.
News of the alleged harassment comes amid cautious optimism that the Nov. 13 release of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest might signal improved human rights for minorities in the country also known as Burma. The Baptist World Alliance applauded the move, citing Baptists' long history of missionary work in Myanmar.
Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Michael Posner called her release "a positive step" but pointed out there are more than 2,100 political prisoners in Burma, including many monks and other religious leaders.
The State Department ranks Myanmar as one of the world's worst offenders in failure to protect religious freedom. Though it has no official state religion, Burma's government actively promotes Theravada Buddhism over other religions and restricts religious activities by Christian, Islamic and non-sanctioned Buddhist minorities, the State Department said in a major report on religious freedom released Nov. 17.
Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.
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