The military council reportedly announced last week that Christians in areas under martial law in Chin State must report to township administrators a week in advance of attending Sunday services.
The order, announced on February 13, applies to residents of Hakha, Tedim, Tonzang, Falam, Matupi, Kanpetlet, Thantlang, and Mindat townships, according to Salai Htet Ni, spokesperson for the Chin National Front/Army (CNF/A).
Christians make up 85 percent of the Chin State population and the military council’s new rule constitutes a violation of their religious freedom, Salai Htet Ni said.
“It was clear to us the moment they declared martial law that they were going to oppress the people, especially the Chin people, of whom 90 percent are Christians. Restrictions like these on Sunday service attendance are a violation of our religious freedom,” he added.
It is unknown how long the new reporting rule will stay in effect, or how the military would respond if the Chin people chose to continue attending church without following it.
A pastor from Kanpetlet claimed the news had caused fear and distress for people in Chin State, who did not want to report to junta administrators.
“This is yet another act of terrorism by the military council. It’s been very distressing for the public, regardless of race or religion, since they declared martial law,” he said.
Residents of Matupi in southern Chin State are confronting a similar threat, according to a local resident.
“We absolutely do not want to report to them just for going to church, but it’s not as though we have a choice,” he said.
Salai Za Uk Ling, an officer of the Chin Human Rights Organisation (CHRO), called the military’s new order intolerable.
“Such an action is a direct violation of freedom of religion and freedom of assembly for worship, which are both fundamental human rights,” he said.
According to the CHRO, over 70 religious buildings have been destroyed throughout Chin State in the two years since the military coup due to junta forces’ airstrikes and arson attacks.
“The churches are cultural monuments for the Chin people. The military not only bombed, burned, and destroyed our churches, they’re now also restricting our rights to go to church,” said Thang Te, a Falam resident.
The military council has not only declared martial law in seven of Chin State’s nine townships, which are strongholds of anti-junta armed groups, but has also cut off telephone connections and blocked routes that could be used to bring food supplies to the state.
Under these conditions, on February 8 an anti-junta alliance of Chin fighters attacked and overtook the Central Police Station in the now-abandoned town of Thantlang, located some 25 miles northwest of Hakha. Anti-junta fighters have occupied over 95 percent of Thantlang Township, Salai Htet Ni claimed.
The junta’s air force has since carried out frequent airstrikes on Thantlang in an attempt to recapture the police station and resistance-held areas.
Christians have been targeted by junta forces in Thantlang before. In September of 2021, soldiers shot and killed Cung Biak Hum, a 31-year old Baptist pastor, in Thantlang as he was trying to put out fires started by the military’s shelling.
The military council claimed last year that its forces were only protecting civilians and that “terrorists” were responsible for the arson attacks that had occurred in Chin State.
At the beginning of February, the military council extended the state of emergency that has served as justification for their claim to legitimate authority in Myanmar. The council also declared martial law in 37 townships across eight of the country’s 14 states and regions, including the seven in Chin State.