01/29/2015, 00.00
MYANMAR

Chin Christians ready to go to jail to stop cross removal

by Francis Khoo Thwe
Built by members of the Christian community in Hakha, the 16-metre cross targeted by local authorities stands on a hill that overlooks the state capital. Since it lacked the proper permit, the authorities ordered the cross' removal and said that they would prosecute its builders. "If the authorities say I have to go to jail, I am not afraid; I am ready to go to jail for this case," a Chin Christian said. For human rights activists, such an action "continues a decades-long pattern of religious discrimination against Chin Christians."

Yangon (AsiaNews) - The authorities in Chin State, western Myanmar, have issued a demolition order for a 16-metre cross (pictured) built by a group of Christians on a hill overlooking Hakha. They are also pressing ahead with charges against a local Christian, Tial Cem, a Chin elder who was involved in building the Christian symbol.

In reporting the latest case of religious freedom violation in Myanmar, the Chin Human Rights Organisation (CHRO) said that local authorities also imposed a deadline, tomorrow, for the removal of the cross on Caarcaang hill.

For the State Government, backed perhaps by Myanmar's central authorities, the cross was built last April "without the necessary permits." What is more, the pinewood used in the structure was cut illegally and without prior permission from state authorities.

For these two "crimes," some members of the local Christian community could go trial, including Tial Cem himself, and JP Biak Tin Sang, another Christian involved in the project.

A CHRO report indicate that Chin Christians' right to worship was subject to restrictions and constraints in the past. The authorities have not allowed them to build churches or use religious symbols and have torn down at least 13 crosses in various parts of the state, four under the current government alone.

For this reason, Christians in the state capital of Hakha did not seek permission before putting up of their cross, knowing full well that it would not be granted.

Now Tial Cem faces up to two years in prison for "illegally" cutting pine trees, this despite the fact that they were taken from the property of JP Biak Tin Sang, who is also Christian.

Tial Cem himself has no intention of giving his work and insisted that he "would not remove the cross".

"We will have to face whatever it takes," he explained. "If the authorities say I have to go to jail, I am not afraid; I am ready to go to jail for this case".

Against this background, Chin Christians are planning a major rally in defence of religious freedom, even if the authorities seem unwilling to issue the necessary permit.

For CHRO's Executive Director Salai Bawi Lian Mang, "This order to dismantle and remove the cross continues a decades-long pattern of religious discrimination against Chin Christians".

Still, he hopes the authorities will "allow the cross to remain where it is and drop the charges against Tial Cem."

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