On 29 June 2023, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) published a follow-up report on the state of freedom of religion in Myanmar since the coup took place on 1 February 2021. Two findings stand out in particular:
[T]he ICJ’s recent findings indicate a concerning rise in the use of religious and sacred sites for military purposes, including as bases, detention centres, interrogation centres, and even as killing fields in certain conflict zones.
In the initial phases of the coup, the military focused on Buddhist clergy believed to be associated with the anti-coup movement or having ties to people’s defence forces. Since 2022, there has been an increasing trend of targeted attacks and arrest of ethnic Christian clergy based on their ethnicity. Documenting the circumstances of imprisoned clergies from various religious communities is becoming increasingly challenging due to the junta’s repression with human rights lawyers being arrested and detained arbitrarily.
World Watch Research analyst Thomas Muller comments: “It does not come as a surprise that specific religions and religious minorities are being targeted by the Tatmadaw – the government’s military arm – in the conflict in the Myanmar. Whereas the first paragraph quoted above indicates an indiscriminate approach against all religions and minorities, the second passage reveals deliberate action by the Tatmadaw focusing on Buddhist and Christian clergy. This does not bode well for the future of the conflict: If the Tatmadaw continues to use religious sentiments to whip up support or to spread an “us-versus-them” attitude, it is very hard to see how such sentiment can be overcome once the civil war is over.”
Thomas Muller continues: “Despite the ongoing conflict, the regime is trying to pretend that all is well and allegedly plans for nationwide elections to go ahead in 2024. One prerequisite for such elections is a nationwide census, a task the regime claims to have almost completed, as Radio Free Asia reported on 28 June 2023. Given the challenges the last census posed, which was completed in 2014 when the country was more or less at peace, and given the fact that government control is at least ‘contested’ in half of the country, any census results are unlikely to be credible and may well sow the seed for more discontent and bitterness.”