speaks with Benedict Rogers, author of a recent Christian
Solidarity Worldwide report, Carrying the Cross - The
military regime's campaign of restriction, discrimination,
and persecution against Christians in Burma...
you know how many Christians there are in Burma today?
“The regime claims six per cent of the population are
Christians, but it typically underestimates the figures for
non-Burmans and non-Buddhists. It is possible that up to ten
per cent are Christians in a population of about 50 to 55
THE CROSS: The report quotes a plea from six Christian
organisations in 2006, who wrote a letter to the junta’s
Senior General Than Shwe saying: “We simply
cannot let things go on without doing anything. This
is because Christian associations have been suffering,
and we are feeling the pain deep in our hearts.”
varies from subtle restrictions, discrimination and
inconveniences, such as the denial of promotion for
Christians in government service, the deliberate use
of forced labour on Sundays and Christmas and Easter
in Christian areas, to more violent forms such as
destruction of churches, crosses, forced conversion,
arrest, torture and even killings of pastors.”
they predominantly worship in underground churches or are
they allowed to openly worship in publically-recognised buildings?
“They are generally able to worship on Sundays openly
and there are recognised church buildings, but it is now almost
impossible to build a new church or register or extend an
existing church. Many unregistered ‘house’ churches
have been formed.”
Your report - Carrying the Cross - says Christians
in Burma are facing "vary degrees of discrimination,
restrictions and in some places violent persecution".
Can you describe some of the ways in which this persecution
“It varies from subtle restrictions, discrimination
and inconveniences, such as the denial of promotion for Christians
in government service, the deliberate use of forced labour
on Sundays and Christmas and Easter in Christian areas, to
more violent forms such as destruction of churches, crosses,
forced conversion, arrest, torture and even killings of pastors.”
Why are Christians targeted in Burma?
“For a variety of reasons - partly because the regime
views Christianity as a Western, colonial import, (but) also
because Christians are often well educated and hold leadership
positions in their communities and because the regime is influenced
by a fascist mentality that is intolerant of other religions,
races and political beliefs.
Is the persecution of Christians getting worse?
“It appears to be worsening, as are all human rights
violations in Burma.”
What factors are influencing this trend?
“The regime is becoming more entrenched, more hard-line,
Is persecution of Christians in Burma also related to ethnicity?
“It is certainly related, in part, to ethnicity as the
majority of Christians are found in the Chin, Kachin, Karen,
Karenni and Naga ethnic groups.”
What were your sources for Carrying the Cross?
“First hand interviews with victims of persecution on
the Thai-Burma border, the India-Burma border, the China-Burma
border and inside Burma. In addition, information from other
human rights organisations, media and church groups.”
Why has Christian Solidarity Worldwide published this report
“It follows the publication in recent years of reports
on the persecution of Muslims and the imprisonment of Buddhist
monks, and it is the first time the persecution of Christians
has been highlighted in a comprehensive report.”
What should the international community do to stop the persecution
of Christians in Burma?
“The UN Secretary-General should engage more fully in
finding a political solution to Burma’s problems and
the UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion and Belief
should conduct a full investigation into violations of religious
freedom in Burma. The US State Department and the US Commission
on International Religious Freedom should also increase their
monitoring of the situation.”
What can Christians in countries like Australia, the
UK and the US do to help ensure action is taken?
“Pray - especially on 11th March, the Global Day of
Prayer for Burma (www.prayforburma.org).
Protest - write to your political representatives and governments
to urge them to raise these issues. Provide - by supporting
the various organisations providing aid and advocacy.
On a personal note, where has your interest in Burma
“I made my first visit in 2000 to the Thai-Burmese border
after working a lot in East Timor. I fell in love with the
beautiful, gentle, gracious and courageous people and determined
to devote my life to working for their freedom and peace.”
Lastly, your report refers to the country - which
is officially named Myanmar - as Burma. Can you explain why?
“The regime changed the name of the country, but the
ethnic groups and pro democracy movement asks us to continue
to use Burma because the regime had no mandate to change the
name of the country.”