MYANMAR PROTESTERS DEMAND DEMOCRACY AS ASEAN NATIONS PREPARE FOR TALKS
On Monday 5 April, Brunei – the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) – became the latest association member to call for a meeting in Jakarta to assist in finding a “negotiated solution” to the ongoing unrest in Myanmar, asking leaders of the 10-country association to prepare for talks. A date for the meeting has not yet been set. Indonesia also called on ASEAN – of which Myanmar is a member – to start talks, despite the association’s history of not getting involved in domestic conflicts. Myanmar has faced two months of unrest following a military coup that toppled the elected government, led by Aung San Suu Kyi. The military claimed the election was fraudulent, however, the election commission found no evidence of corruption. Ms Suu Kyi has been detained since the coup and is facing charges, such as violating the Secrets Act, possession of illegal walkie-talkies, and publishing information that might cause fear. The military junta has responded violently to the persistent protests. Activists and human rights groups have put the number of deaths at 557, including 100 on 27 March alone – the deadliest day of protests thus far. The junta have attempted to squelch protests by enforcing curfews, trying to limit the number of people at gatherings, and shutting down the internet throughout the country. The protests are largely organised by young people but see participants joining from all areas of life. Teachers, lawyers, students, and government workers have all participated in demonstrations. Several countries have condemned the coup and the ensuing violence and have placed sanctions on Myanmar’s military. The UN recently released a statement warning that Myanmar is at risk of falling into civil war if a solution is not found soon.
From a Christian perspective, approximately 90% of Myanmar’s population is Buddhist, with a Christian minority of around 8% (of these, approximately 5% identify as evangelical). Under the previous decades of military rule, many Christian minority groups, such as the Chin, Kachin, and Karen, suffered heavy persecution. Some Christian religious leaders have expressed fear that a return to military rule could once again lead to higher levels of persecution. The ethnic Karen group was one of the first peoples to follow Christ in Myanmar. Approximately 20% of Karen people are Christian. This, along with the group’s call for more autonomy, has historically made them a target of the Myanmar military. Recent airstrikes by the junta have caused thousands of Karen to flee to Thailand. Many Christians across Myanmar have participated in the protests, despite the possibility of heightened scrutiny from the military. “The leaders in high positions in the Church have the most to lose,” said Ellis Craft, Southeast Asia ministry director for the US-based missions organisation, ‘Reach A Village.’ “If they are vocal, they and their denominations could be targeted for prison, house arrest, or the military could use deadly force, as they have in the past.” Christians thus need much discernment as they consider the extent of their involvement in the protests since they walk a fine line in maintaining their witness to both their communities and those in authority (currently the military).
Please pray with us for the following:
- Pray for a diplomatic solution, an end to the deadly violence and rights violations, and a peaceful return to civil governance
- Pray for the Church to be wise and discerning regarding their involvement in the protests
- Pray for the Church to be a source of hope and peace, and for protection amid increased attention and persecution, and that the traditionally resistant Burmese peoples’ hearts will be softened towards the Gospel
Image: REUTERS/Dawei Watch