01/13/2009, 00.00
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Yangon, dictatorship closes Christian and Muslim houses of prayer

The military regime orders a halt to services and prayers in private buildings and homes. Those who do not follow the new dispositions will have the building confiscated, and will face "serious action." For some time, the junta has not been granting permits for the construction of places of worship.

Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) - A new crackdown by the Burmese military regime against Christian and Muslim faithful. The dictatorship has prohibited prayer meetings in private homes, and is threatening to confiscate the apartments in which religious services are celebrated. The alarm has been raised by the faithful of the two communities, according to whom the ministry for religious affairs has ordered property owners to sign an agreement that "bans group prayers and religious teaching in those buildings."

"Recently," local sources say, "government officials from the Rangoon division religious affairs department went to the ward administration offices and summoned the owners of the buildings being used as prayer houses. They handed the owners an order which prohibits the use of private premises as religious buildings such as churches or mosques." The source also explains that it is prohibited to "meet to pray" or to teach the catechism or study the Koran. "Every owner had to sign five papers" containing the new directives on the practice of worship. Those who violate the measure will suffer the "confiscation" or "closure" of their buildings.

There are believed to be at least 50 domestic churches in all of Yangon. A pastor of one Protestant church in the town of Pabedan - who asked to remain anonymous for reasons of safety - denounces the threat of "punishment" issued by the ministry for religious affairs, and complains that now "we don't know what to do with our Sunday services."

For some time, the Burmese military junta has stopped granting property deeds to religious organizations for the construction of churches or places of worship. The decision has driven many faithful and pastors to meet in private places, including private homes, which usually are rented by third parties. "Since the late 1990's authorities have stopped issuing permits [to churches] to purchase land or construct church buildings," the pastor says. He also explains that his own home is used to celebrate religious services. A young Christian of Yangon says that about "eighty percent of the churches in Yangon are included in the order. Only a few churches have their own land. Most churches use rented buildings, houses and office style rooms for worship places."

The repression of the military junta is also affecting the Muslims, who are not able to pray or learn the precepts of the Koran in private homes. The ban is added to a prohibition against building mosques. The authorities have also threatened to take "serious action" against those who do not follow the new orders.

In Myanmar, about 90% of the people are of the Theravada Buddhist religion, 5% are Christian, and about 4% are Muslim.

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