The junta that overthrew Myanmar’s elected government more than a year ago has destroyed in excess of 100 Buddhist and Christian buildings in central, northwest, and southeast Myanmar, the non-profit news website The Irrawaddy reported this week, as ongoing military operations to extinguish civilian opposition to the coup have brought the country to the brink of civil war.
“Since late last year, the junta has conducted artillery and airstrikes on civilian areas in Chin State and Sagaing and Magwe regions, as well as in Kayah State,” the website reported. “It has been facing strong resistance from local people in all those areas.” (The Irrawaddy)
In the wake of the coup in February last year, the junta—the military-led State Administrative Council—has consolidated its hold on power with violent crackdowns on public dissent and street demonstrations, which have continued in defiance of the military-led suppression. Even the country’s venerated monastic sangha have found themselves in the military’s crosshairs.*
Despite more than a year of violent suppression, the junta continues to face widespread opposition to its rule. Crackdowns on peaceful protest movements and civil disobedience campaigns have resulted in a rise in communities turning to armed resistance, often with support from existing ethnic militia groups.
Junta forces have razed at least 6,158 civilian homes since the beginning of the coup, the independent research group Data for Myanmar reported earlier in March. The military is also accused of arbitrary killings, using civilians as human shields, and looting and burning homes and religious buildings.
Domestic human rights groups report that junta attacks in predominantly Christian Chin State have destroyed nearly 35 churches and 15 affiliated buildings, with a further 12 churches destroyed in majority Christian Kayah State.
Additionally, the junta—which has publicly pledged to protect Buddhism—has destroyed, raided, and looted at least 30 Buddhist monasteries in Sagaing Region and 20 more in Magwe Region, both predominantly Buddhist areas.
About 89.8 per cent of the population of this Southeast Asian nation identify as Buddhists, predominantly followers of the Theravada tradition, according to census data for 2016. Christians make up 6.3 per cent, Muslims 2.3 per cent, and Hindus 0.5 per cent, with tribal and other religions comprising 1 per cent. Groups representing all religious communities—including monastics and clergy—have taken to the streets and demonstrated against the military takeover.
U Waryama, a Buddhist monk and a member of the anti-junta Spring Revolution Sangha Network, was quoted as saying that despite claiming to be a defender of Buddhism, the regime has repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to attack any perceived threat to military rule.
“They build pagodas and monasteries to show they are the guardians of Buddhism but will not hesitate to kill monks if they pose a threat to their power,” U Waryama said. (The Irrawaddy)
Myanmar’s military declared a year-long state of emergency on 1 February 2021, after detaining President Win Myint, State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, and other members of the governing National League for Democracy (NLD) party. The coup d’état took place just hours before the country’s new parliament was due to convene following a general election in November 2020, during which the NLD made substantial electoral gains.
The military, which had backed the parliamentary opposition in the national election, has asserted that it staged the coup in response to electoral fraud, however the national election commission said that there was no evidence to support these claims. The NLD won around 80 per cent of the available parliamentary seats in the 2020 vote.
Since seizing power, the self-styled State Administration Council (SAC), led by military commander-in-chief General Min Aung Hlaing, has unilaterally amended the country’s treason and sedition legislation in an apparent bid to secure impunity for the coup leaders.
United Nations High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet told the 49th session of Human Rights Council on 21 March that the Myanmar’s humanitarian crisis has continued to expand as systematic brutality by security forces has reignited pre-existing armed conflicts in multiple ethnic states. “The economy is on the brink of collapse. Over 14.4 million individuals are now assessed as being in humanitarian need,” said Bachelet. “Food scarcity will sharply increase over the coming months.” (UN News)
“Credible sources have recorded the deaths of over 1,600 individuals, many engaged in peaceful protest. At least 350 of those killed died in military custody, over 21 per cent of the total deaths,” Bachelet added. (UN News)
In response to the crisis, the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB) and the Clear View Project in Berkley, California, has launched an international appeal, calling for urgent humanitarian relief for Buddhist monks and nuns living in Myanmar in the shadow of the junta.***
“The International Network of Engaged Buddhists and the US-based Clear View Project are coordinating an urgent appeal to raise funds to support the humanitarian emergency in Myanmar that focuses on Buddhist monks and nuns,” INEB said in a message shared with BDG. “[In February 2021] the Myanmar military staged what they considered would be a ‘quick coup’ in which democratically elected members of government, including President U Win Myint and State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, were detained. Since that time, the country has been in turmoil with the people responding by taking a civil disobedience movement to cities and villages across Myanmar.”
The Myanmar- and Thailand-based human rights organization Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) reported that as of 30 March, 1,722 people were confirmed to have been killed by the military junta. The organization noted that the figure represented only deaths that the AAPP could independently verify and that the actual number was likely to be much higher. A total of 9,991 people are known to be in detention, with 965 sentenced to prison terms and 91 sentenced to death—some in absentia, the AAPP said.
Over 100 Religious Buildings Destroyed by Myanmar Regime Forces (The Irrawaddy)
Myanmar Junta Has Torched Over 6,000 Civilian Homes Since Coup (The Irrawaddy)
Human rights in Myanmar face ‘profound crisis’ – Bachelet (UN News)
Daily Briefing in Relation to the Military Coup (Assistance Association for Political Prisoners)
URGENT APPEAL for Humanitarian Relief to support Buddhist Monks and Nuns in Myanmar’s Political Movement Against Military Dictatorship (International Network of Engaged Buddhists)
Related news reports from BDG
Hundreds of Buddhist Monks Flee Temples in Eastern Myanmar as Violence Escalates
Religious Leaders in Myanmar Decry Persecution by Military Junta
Burmese Human Rights Lawyer U Nay Min Dies of COVID-19, Aged 75
UPDATE: Socially Engaged Buddhist Groups Deliver Medical Relief to Pro-democracy Protestors in Myanmar
Pro-democracy Protesters Hold Silent Strikes During Myanmar’s Buddhist New Year Holiday
INEB, Clear View Project Launch Humanitarian Appeal for Buddhist Monastics in Myanmar
UPDATE: INEB Calls for Reconciliation in Myanmar as Pro-democracy Protests Turn Violent
Peace Sangha Union Issues Statement on Myanmar Coup as Buddhist Monks Join Pro-democracy Protests
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Myanmar: A Month into the Coup
The Other Shoe Drops: Reflections on Myanmar’s Latest Coup
A Reflection on the Intellectual and Socio-Cultural History of Buddhism in Myanmar
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Buddhistdoor View: Reconciling Nationalism and Buddhism