Christians and the Burmese Crackdown
Burmese citizens began peaceful protests for better living standards in mid-August in response to a sudden rise in gas prices in Myanmar. After several hundred Buddhist monks joined them, the Burmese government responded with arrests, a media crackdown, and night raids. It is unclear how many people have been killed in the crackdown.
Myanmar, which was known as Burma before a 1962 military coup, has a long history of rights abusesand peaceful protest. National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, has been under house arrest for almost a decade. Last week Burma's military leader Gen Than Shwe, agreed to meet with her if she would abandon her support of international sanctions on Burma and her "confrontational" stance.
Two ethnic groupsthe Karen and the Chinhave historical ties to Christianity. The U. S. State Department estimates that 3 percent of the country's 47 million people are Baptist.
Burmese Christians have been specifically targeted by the regime. Last March, Christian Solidarity Worldwide obtained a leaked government document entitled "Program to Destroy the Christian Religion in Burma."
Pastor David, a Burmese church planter who has been working in Myanmar for the last few years, spoke with CT about the situation of Christians in the country.
What's happening with the protests? Why was the sudden rise in oil prices the catalyst?
The government doubled the price on the morning of August the 15th without any prior notice to the public. So what happened is that there was a sudden raise in the price, buses and public transportation cannot operate. There is simply no public transportation, so people who need to go to work got stranded. There was a lot of chaos.
I was still in the country at that time and I knew at that moment that something was going to happen. Now before the raising of oil prices, there was a convention going on on the northern side of Rangoon. And there was already quite an atmosphere in the country: There were officials going about, raiding churches.
In fact, the Bible school that I have the privilege of directingwe had to shut it down on the last week of September with all this going on.
In the midst of that, they doubled the [oil] prices, and that really sparked the fire. And that's when people said, "we can't stand this anymore," and they began to rally. And at first it was a very small rally. It wasn't getting any international attention. It was only when the Buddhist monks began to come out and began to rally that the international community began to focus their attention on Burma.
Why did the government let the protests go on for so long before cracking down? Is that usual?
I was very surprised. The best I can do here is speculation: Within the government there are already tensions. There are four big generals that are fighting for power, and they don't really share values or worldviews. So there's already a clash between them. I think they take the time among themselves as to how to best handle the [rallies] and it probably took some time before they came back and decided to crack down. I think it's [because] of the internal tactics and discussion that is taking place [within the Burmese government].
Have Christians been involved in the protests?
As a church, in the name of the church, we don't usually do that. But I know there are Christians who are very much into pushing for this kind of activity. But there's no way we can say that certain Christians participated.