By BosNewsLife Asia Service
RANGOON, BURMA (BosNewsLife)-- Authorities in Burma, also known as Myanmar, are imposing new restrictions on Christian and other religious activities in the Kachin State region, an influential religious rights group said Monday, October 31.
Britain-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), which has investigated the situation in Burma, said local churches have received a letter warning them that advance permission is required for events such as worship and Bible studies.
CSW told BosNewsLife that the letter titled “Concerning Christians conducting cultural training" was send on October 14 by the government's Chairman of Maw Wan Ward in Phakant Township.
The document "refers to an order by the General Township Administration Department requiring Christians in Phakant Township to submit a request at least 15 days in advance for permission to conduct "short-term Bible study, Bible study, Sunday school, reading the Bible, fasting prayer, Seasonal Bible study and Rosary of the Virgin Mary Prayer," CSW explained.
"A request for permission must be accompanied by recommendations from other departments, and must be submitted to the Township Administration Office."
CSW said it had obtained a copy of the document in Burmese, and a translation, last week. Churches in Burma are already required to obtain permission for any events other than Sunday services, but this new regulation "imposes further severe restrictions," according to CSW investigators.
CSW's East Asia Team Leader Benedict Rogers said that “For many years, successive Burmese regimes have suppressed freedom of religion and imposed serious restrictions on Christians and other religious minorities."
Rogers said both "Christians and Muslims in particular have been the target of discrimination and persecution. It appears that despite changes in rhetoric, there has been no change of attitude, particularly at a local level, on the part of Burmese authorities to religious minorities."
He claimed that Burma is already "regarded as one of the world’s worst violators of religious freedom" and is one of the United States State Department’s 'Countries of Particular Concern' list.
"To impose a requirement on churches and individuals to seek permission to read the Bible, pray, fast and hold a Sunday school is an extreme restriction and an extraordinary further violation of freedom of religion," Rogers said.
He added that his group had urged Burmese authorities to withdraw this requirement, in Phakant Township and in any other parts of the country where it may have been issued, "and to uphold freedom of religion for all the people of Burma."
Additionally CSW has urged the Burmese government to invite the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion or Belief to visit the country, "and conduct an independent investigation.”
Burmese officials have not reacted to the latest allegations. However Burma's government has in the past denied wrongdoing describing reports to the contrary as "Western" or "U.S. propaganda."