Freedom of Belief and Religion – What does it mean for Them?

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During one year after the coup, the civilian properties, especially in the rural villages, were burned down, the locals were arrested and killed, and religious buildings were destroyed.

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Religious destruction here means when the military junta systematically destroys the locals’ religious buildings and statues by stationing and bombarding the churches and temples.

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According to the 2008 constitution, Panglaung township, Southern Shan State, is included in the self-administrative zone controlled by Pa-O National Organization (PNO)/ Pa-O National Army (PNA).

In Panglaung township, Shan, Pa-O, Danu, and Kayan (Karenni) are the ethnicities living there, and Kayan is the minority group.

The minority Kayan is mostly living in Tha Than Guu village, and it is about three hours drive from Panglaung city.

The Kayan people are Roman Catholic christians and a Catholic church is built at the village and a statue of mother Mary can be found in the area.

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The statue of mother Mary is located about a mile from the Tha Than Guu village, and the surrounding of the statue is very peaceful with a waterfall called Har Waterfall.

The First Time Mother Mary Statue was Destroyed

The statue of mother Mary was built on 17 May 2019, located about a mile away from the Tha Than Guu village for the Catholic believers.

After the statue was built, the Pa-O militia group PNO/PNA made that area as their national park.

After that, tension has mounted with the locals because the Pa-O militia would like to be stationed in that notational park without consulting the natives.

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“For the first time, the mother Mary statue’s hands, nose, and eyes were destroyed. I think they would like to own that area,” a 35 years old resident narrated the story.

The natives expressed their view that the PNO would like to take the land where the mother Mary statue is built because it is close to Har waterfall.

“The main problem is that they made that area as their national park without consulting the natives. In 2019, just a few months after the statue was built, the tension started,” a native woman anonymously told SHAN due to her security concerns.

According to a venerated Buddhist monk, Warshaung Sayardaw, if the land is confiscated politically and militarily, it has been forced and oppressed religiously.

“The situation right now is that the current nation “leaders” always say that they are respecting any religion, and trying to preserve the national religion and all that. However, the real situation is the opposite,” Warshaung Sayardaw pointed out the current situation.

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SAC Army Battalion Started Coming to Tha Than Guu Village

On 3 May 2022, about 80 soldiers from the Myanmar military army and PNO/PNA combined forces started entering into Tha Than Guu village, and villagers started fleeing into the jungle.

However, a 40 years old man who could not manage to flee was arrested by the Myanmar military army.

“We fled into the jungle, and one villager who could not escape was arrested and used him as a guide and human shield,” a man who lives in Tha Than Guu village told SHAN about what happened.

The arrested man was tortured by the Myanmar military junta and was used as a guide and human shield in the conflict area near the Paunglaung Myo Thit bridge.

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On 1 May 2022, a clash broke out between the Myanmar military junta and local People Defense Force (PDF) in Paunglaung village. After that, the Myanmar military junta accused the Tha Than Guu village for hosting PDF, and they searched the religious churches and locals’ houses.

“The conflict escalated near our village. So, they thought PDF forces were staying in our village and came here. The villagers have been living in fear since then. We have to be always alert. We have to keep our eyes and ears open because we do not know when they will come back to our village,” a 35 years old man told SHAN.

The Second Time Mother Mary Statue was Destroyed

There has been tension between the Kayan minority and the PNO about the mother Mary statue before the military coup in 2021.

The PNO not only destroyed the mother Mary statue but also filed a lawsuit against a priest for trespassing into forbidden forestry areas.

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According to a priest, the act of PNO is inhumane and the priest said that the responsible persons will receive his punishment according to the religious teachings and his actions.

“The attackers have ruined the image of the religion for the believers. Also, they have damaged the organization they represent. They have ruined the image of our country. I am not saying this for my own religion – but destroying any of the religious buildings, churches, statues are immoral and barbaric,” a catholic priest told SHAN.

“Whichever religion it is, no one likes such actions. They are clearly abusing the right to freedom of belief and religion – they made it clear with their actions,” a Roman Catholic christian woman told SHAN.

She also pointed out that oppressing the minority group of people and their religion by abusing their power is not a good thing – they are not respecting the minority group.

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The Tha Than Guu villagers are not only afraid of the Myanmar military junta but also the Pa-O militia group.

“The villagers are living in fear and trauma. They are now afraid of working on the farms because they do not know when the military soldiers will come. They are always cautious and alert. The villagers no longer live in peace in the village,” a Kayan woman explained the current situation.

With a reference to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) report, a total of 70 christian churches have been burned and damaged during the recent armed conflicts with the Myanmar military junta.

According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Freedom of Belief and Religion, Freedom of Opinion and Information, Freedom of Expression, and Freedom of Assembly and Association are some of the basic human rights declared by the United Nations.

The UN’s declaration also stated that Freedom of Belief and Religion is not only one of the basic human rights but also vital for the democratic and economic reform and for the betterment and peaceful life of the people in a nation.

“The basic human rights, like Freedom of Belief and Religion, are not applicable to us here. We will be continuously oppressed by this armed authoritarian unless we can overthrow them,” a 35 years old Kayan man told SHAN.

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