A military group in Myanmar has detained ethnic minority Wa and Lahu Christians and ordered them to pledge that they will not pray in churches but only in their homes, Catholic news agency UCAN reports.

Around 30 per cent of 450,000 ethnic Wa are Christians. The unrecognised Wa State (highlighted in green), as claimed by the United Wa State Army, is home to many ethnic groups, including Wa, Kachin, Shan and Ta’ang. (Map: Wikipedia)

One hundred Wa Christians, who signed a statement giving a guarantee, have since been released, according to Rev. Lazarus, general secretary of the Lahu Baptist Convention in Kyaing Tong. Ninety-two Lahu Christians are reportedly still being detained by the United Wa State Army (UWSA), Myanmar’s largest ethnic army.

Rev. Lazarus told UCAN that his Convention had sent a letter to UWSA but had not yet received a reply.

“Christians will face more restrictions and be closely monitored by the United Wa State Army, so the situation is worrisome,” he said.

Since 13 September, the army has destroyed churches in the region, announcing that the ones built after 1992 were illegally constructed. It has also banned the construction of new churches and religious teaching in schools in the Wa region.

Meanwhile, the United Nations has decided to end international protection for predominantly Christian Chin ethnic communities who have been displaced, Premier Radio reports. In June, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announced that the documentation of the Chin people who had fled to other countries would not be automatically renewed from January 2020, which means they would have to return home.

However, the Chin Human Rights Organisation (CHRO) called the decision “premature” as the ethnic group could “still suffer from systematic human rights abuses” in Myanmar.

“Chin people living in present-day Myanmar continue to face institutionalised barriers to religious freedom,” said the organisation’s report. According to CHRO, the Chin community “continues to be threatened” from bodies including the country’s military. The ethnic group, the report says, is not allowed to acquire land for Christian worship and faces mob-violence “often supported and even organised by local authorities and Buddhist monks”. The challenges they meet include poor access to education and under-developed infrastructure.

World Watch Monitor recently told the story of a pastor from the Chin minority who explained the discrimination a Christian can meet on a daily basis in Myanmar. Tun left his town in Chin state and moved his family to another area to pastor a small group of Christians in a predominantly Buddhist village. His name and voice have been changed on the video to protect him.