NewsA Testimony on the Freedom of Religion and the Media in Myanmar

A Testimony on the Freedom of Religion and the Media in Myanmar

By Father Henry Brang Mai, SIGNIS Member from Myanmar

Immediately after the unexpected military coup on February 1, 2021, some military generals came to meet prominent religious leaders, including our Catholic bishops. While the exact reason for the generals’ approach to the religious leaders was not known, it seems that, in a diplomatic way, the generals intended to impose some pressures on the religious leaders not to participate in demonstrations or other activities against the military coup.

A pattern of pressure imposed on the bishops can be detected in the official statement released on February 21, 2021, by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Myanmar, in which the emphasis is placed on “dialogue” and “reconciliation”. The noun “peace” appears nine times in the statement and the adjective “peaceful” once.

Sadly enough, the word “justice” does not come up even once in that statement. How can it be possible to call for peace and reconciliation unless justice is firstly satisfied: justice for those who were shot to death, justice for those who are unjustly detained, and so on? It seems to confirm that freedom of expression is still a taboo in Myanmar.

More specifically, it appears to me that religious leaders who represent the Catholic Church in Myanmar (1% of the total population in Myanmar) have been silenced. In this sense, I dare not to say that there is the freedom of religion in Myanmar.

Regarding the freedom of the media, Internet access from mobile data has been shut down. It means no one can get internet access from mobile phone.

While reporting the current situation in Myanmar, journalists have to stay away from their home and office because police and soldiers can come to investigate their homes and offices to abduct them. Some journalists have been detained and licenses of some media companies have been revoked. It is obvious that the freedom of the media has been lost.

Yet, to my knowledge, until now, no media person from the Catholic cycles has been arrested due to reporting news about the current situation.

On the other hand, one religious person from the Catholic Church who has recently got a lot of media attention is Sr. Nu Tawng, a nun from the congregation of St. Francis Xavier, who courageously confronted the police not to shoot those who were peacefully protesting on the street.

Because of her courage to stop the police, the lives of many protesters were saved. Indeed, St. Nu Tawng has communicated a concrete message from the gospel to the people around her: the message of laying down one’s life for a friend.

Being inspired by the example of this nun, I continue to pray that the spirit of St. Oscar Romero, the patron saint of SIGNIS, may inspire our religious leaders in communicating a message of justice and peace to the peoples of Myanmar. 


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