Myanmar: Christians Forced to Sign Papers Vowing Not to Pray in Church, Curb Their Faith

(Photo: Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun)Ethnic Kayaw people walk out after a mass at the catholic church at Htaykho village in the Kayah state, Myanmar, September 13, 2015.

Hundreds of minority Christians in Myanmar are being forced to sign papers vowing to limit their faith and not pray in churches, pastors have warned.

A church leader identified as the Rev. Lazarus, general secretary of the Lahu Baptist Convention in Kyaing Tong, eastern Shan State, told UCA News on Wednesday that close to 100 Wa Christians were released by the United Wa State Army after they agreed to the orders.

Christians who signed the pledges are now mandated to only pray privately in their homes and not in churches.

Lazarus added that 92 ethnic-Lahu Christians remain in captivity, however, while dozens of churches have been shut down. He warned that the believers are faced with no choice but to sign the papers.

"Christians will face more restrictions and be closely monitored by the United Wa State Army, so the situation is worrisome," he said.

The Rev. Thang Cin Lian, general secretary of the Myanmar Baptist Convention, said that meetings are being held discussing the faith of the 92 captive believers.

"We are praying for the Christians in the Wa Hills," Lian said.

The UWSA, which grew out of the Communist Party of Burma, expelled five Catholic nuns and six lay teachers in September, and has been destroying what it claims are unauthorized churches in the region.

"We want stability and rule of law in our area, so extremists may be arrested. Such measures are necessary, as we are preparing to celebrate the 30th Peace Festival on April 17 next year and no extremism is allowed," said U Nyi Rang, the militia's spokesperson.

The April 2019 date in question refers to the 30th anniversary of the USWA cease-fire with the Myanmar government.

The military group has accused Christians of causing instability in the area, Myanmar Times reported. It has been targeting churches built after 1992, arguing that they were built without permission.

Aaron Maung Maung Tun, director of the publication's department of the Lahu Baptist Convention, said that the army is looking to use Christian schools that have been closed for its own purposes.

"I heard that the Lahu Bible school will be used as a Wa police station. We have sent a letter to the Wa but have received no reply," Tun said.

The UWSA has been arresting Christians by claiming that religious leaders are violating laws that prevent foreigners from serving in churches. It has also accused believers of forceful conversions.

The Lahu Baptist Convention, based in the Eastern Shan state, has separately shared fears that the UWSA is forcing Christian students to serve in its army.

"The UWSA has also forcibly recruited 41 male and female students who were participating Bible study classes in various churches," Lazarus told Radio Free Asia earlier this month.

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