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Burma Print
Monday, 06 June 2011 00:00
Religious Freedom Ranking
1 out of 5 stars: Serious Violations


Burma (also known as: Myanmar)

BurmaSince 1962 the country has been ruled by extremely oppressive authoritarian military regimes.  The government imposed serious restrictions and limitations on religious freedom.

A 2008 nationwide referendum endorsed a new draft Constitution; however, there was no change in the government’s restraints on religious freedom. The government monitors all meetings, including those of religious organizations.  Permits must be obtained in order to hold public events. The government actively promotes Theravada Buddhism, while it is difficult for Christian and Islamic groups to receive government consent to repair places of worship or build new ones.  Restrictions against non-Buddhist religious groups have been common.  Adherence or conversion to Buddhism is an unwritten requirement for promotion to senior government and military ranks.  It is reported that all senior level officers of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) and the armed forces must be Buddhists.  Social tensions between the Buddhist majority and the Christian and Muslim minorities are prevalent. Burmese Muslims are not considered citizens, and the government imposes restrictions on their movement, employment and marriages.

The country has a population of 50 million.  According to official statistics, 90 percent of the population practices Buddhism, 4 percent Christianity and 4 percent Islam.  A small Jewish community resides in Rangoon but has no local rabbi. Chinese ethnic minorities practice traditional Chinese religions. Traditional indigenous beliefs are practiced in rural village areas. Citizens of Indian origin practice Hinduism, Islam and Christianity.

Although the regime treats religious freedom as a possible threat to national unity, government-recognized religions are allowed some freedom of worship. However, the Constitution prohibits the “abuse of religion for political purposes.” The law also criminalizes the “defamation” of religion for political reasons.  It forbids members of religious orders to run for public office.  A law enacted in March 2010 banned members of religious orders—including Buddhists, Christians and Hindus--from voting in upcoming elections and joining political parties.

However, state-controlled media depicted government officials and family members as Buddhist monks. State-owned newspapers frequently featured front-page banner slogans quoting from Buddhist scriptures. The 1990 Sangha Organization Law banned any institution of Buddhist monks other than the nine state-recognized monastic orders.  Serious consequences such as defrocking and criminal penalties occur if this law is violated. The Ministry of Religious Affairs’ Department for the Perpetuation and Propagation of the Sasna supervises the government’s relations with Buddhist monks and schools. The state-funded International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University in Rangoon declared its purpose “to share the country’s knowledge of Buddhism with the people of the world.” Buddhist values are a part of the state-mandated curriculum in all government-run elementary schools.  It is optional that students attend Buddhist classes, but they are required to recite a traditional Buddhist prayer daily.
Christian and Islamic texts and scripture remained censored since the 1960s. Six Muslims were arrested in December 2009 for passing out Islamic newsletters without approval.  Translation of the Bible into indigenous languages is illegal.  It is not required that religious organizations register with the government; however, they must get government permission in order to hold religious activities. The government discourages non-Buddhist proselytizing. It mandates that all citizens carry government-issued National Registration Cards (NRCs) that state a person’s religious affiliation and ethnicity.  Many ethnic and religious minorities have reported facing difficulties in getting NRCs.

Government authorities often reject requests from people of Christian and Islamic faiths to hold gatherings to celebrate the traditional holidays. Muslims face restrictions on the number of people who can gather in one place. Mosques in Mandalay and Rangoon were not permitted to use loudspeakers for the Azan (call to prayer). The government claimed that it would disturb Buddhist monks. Christian and Islamic groups were discriminated against because the government restricted their educational activities, proselytizing and construction of churches and mosques.  It is reported that some Christian ministers were refused residency permits. Muslims, ethnic Chinese and Indians were required to receive permission from authorities in order to leave their hometowns. Muslims are not allowed to live in Gwa or Taungup in the state. It is illegal for newcomers who are Muslim to buy property or reside in Thandwe, Rakhine State.

The government arrested and imprisoned politically active Buddhist monks in an effort to control the Buddhist clergy (Sangha). It tried unapproved monks for “activities inconsistent with and detrimental to Buddhism.” They were usually beaten and forced to do hard labor. They were not allowed to shave their heads and were provided food that was incompatible with the monastic code. The Thailand-based Assistance Association of Political Prisoners in Burma (AAPP) reported 252 imprisoned monks; many of them were arrested after the September 2007 peaceful pro-democracy presentations. AAPP also reported that security forces in retaliation for the monk-led demonstrations raided about 52 monasteries between September 26 and December 31, 2007.  

Previous reports claim that Christians had to convert to Buddhism in order to attend school; however, there have been no current reports of physically coerced religious conversion.

2010 U.S. State Department International Religious Freedom on Burma

Last Updated on Wednesday, 28 September 2011 19:07