Three pastors from Kachin state in northern Myanmar are facing three years in jail after being detained and charged for their leading role in organizing prayers for peace.
They were detained on June 28 after the chairman of the Rawang Literature and Culture Committee (RLCC) filed a lawsuit over them for leading a prayer service in Naungmoon township of Putao district on March 3, according to media reports.
The pastors, who belong to the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) and Rawang Baptist Convention, could face up to three years in prison under a penal code which criminalizes causing fear, spreading false news and agitating for criminal offenses against government employees.
The RLCC chairman is reportedly a member of the military regime’s administrative body in Putao and a member of the military-linked Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).
The KBC has called for prayers for the immediate release of the pastors.
The pastors, who are in their 60s and not in good health, were sent to a prison in Naungmoon township on June 29 and a court hearing has been set for July 12, according to a Kachin-based media report.
Christians have expressed their anger over the case and prayed for the pastors’ release on social media.
“Release the pastors immediately as they are not committing any wrongdoing. They were just leading prayers,” one netizen said.
The military has raided churches, including Catholic and Baptist ones, in Kachin and Chin states, the Irrawaddy Delta, Yangon and Mandalay. Eight priests from Chin and Kachin states and Mandalay have been arrested.
At least eight churches and a Marian shrine in Kayah and neighboring Shan state were attacked by artillery shelling in May.
It is not uncommon in conflict-torn Myanmar for Christians to be targeted. A Catholic church in Shan state was bombed by military airstrikes in 2017 and another was attacked by the military in Kachin state in 2018.
Two Kachin pastors who spoke to the media about the church bombing in Shan state were jailed in October 2017 for two years under the Unlawful Association Act.
Areas occupied by the Kachin, Kayah, Chin and Karen ethnic groups, who have been facing oppression and persecution at the hands of the military for decades, are largely Christian.
Since February’s military coup, Christians have conducted prayers, held fasts for a peaceful solution and played a significant role in nationwide protests as well as supplying food and non-food items to the poor and displaced people.
Myanmar: Catholic priest, catechist abducted by armed group
An armed resistance group opposed to Myanmar’s military junta in the western state of Chin has seized a Catholic priest and a catechist travelling with him.
Members of the Chinland Defence Force (CDF) seized Father Noel Hrang Tin Thang along with a catechist while they were travelling from Surkhua town to Chin state capital, Hakha on July 26, UCA News reported. Both belong to Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in Surkhua in Hakha Diocese.
Local Bishop Lucius Hre Kung of Hakha has called for their release, expressing concern for their safety and well-being nearly a week after their abduction.
“I call on the concerned leaders of the CDF to immediately release the pair,” Bishop Hre Kung said in a letter released on August 1. Local Catholics have also expressed concern and said prayers for the immediate release of the cleric and the catechist.
Father Tin Thang has been helping numerous of displaced people including the elderly, women and children who took refuge in the parish following clashes in early June, according to sources.
Following the letter of Bishop Hre Kung, the CDF said the priest and catechist were in good health.
The group accused the priest of giving information to the military junta, getting medical support from the junta and urging locals to receive the junta’s support. The group said it had warned the clergy not to contact the military’s security force, and they had to arrest Father Tin Thang as he failed to comply. “We will release them only after our demands of transferring the priest from Surkhua to Hakha and signing letters of recommendation from two church leaders are fulfilled,” the group said.
However, according to the Italian news agency, AGI, the priest and the catechist were arrested in Hakha while buying medicines for the people of Surkhua. The local community denies Father Tin Thang had any involvement with the security force.
Father Paul Thla Kio, a priest of Hakha Diocese told the Vatican’s Fides news agency that the CDF has seen Father Tin Thang having contacts with a general of the army. Father Thla Kio explained that the general, who is a Catholic and attends Masses, often went to the priests’ residence. In fact, Father Tin Thang asked the general to avoid violence.
Civil resistance groups
The ousting of Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her elected government by the military on February 1, has thrown the nation into chaos with nationwide protests, strikes and a civil disobedience movement, demanding the restoration of the government and the release of their leader. There have been no signs of a letup in the bloody crackdown by Myanmar’s military on its opponents in a bid to consolidate its hold on power. The offensive has re-ignited the military’s old conflicts with some of the armed ethnic organizations as well as numerous independent civil resistance groups.
The CDF is one of these civil resistance groups fighting the military. Using homemade weapons, the CDF has inflicted heavy casualties among junta forces in a conflict that erupted in Chin state in May. Clashes are still raging and more than 18,000 people have been displaced in Chin state and neighboring Magway and Sagaing divisions, according to a United Nations report on July 30. During the conflict, priests have been targeted, with the military arresting eight priests from Chin and Kachin states and Mandalay division in May and June.
Christians are a minority in the predominantly Buddhist country, accounting for 6.2 percent of its 54 million population. Myanmar Catholics represent about 1.5 percent of the population.
Areas occupied by the Kachin, Chin, Karen and Kayah ethnic groups, who have been facing oppression and persecution at the hands of the military for decades, are largely Christian.
Thousands of innocent civilians in have been displaced by the conflict. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Myanmar, over 220,000 people have been displaced by conflicts and insecurity since the coup.
Myanmar’s complex crises
The serious political, socio-economic, human rights and humanitarian crises generated by the coup, have been exacerbated by a raging third wave of Covid-19 infections, with an acute shortage of oxygen and near absence of the most basic healthcare.
Myanmar’s military ruler Min Aung Hlaing marked 6 months since the coup on Sunday by taking on a new title as prime minister of a newly formed caretaker government. The military-backed State Administration Council (SAC) that was formed after the Feb. 1 coup, has now been reformed as a caretaker government. The junta leader promised fresh multi-party elections in 2 years, saying he will cooperate with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on finding a political solution to the country.
Israeli Archaeologists Find 3,100-Year-Old Alphabetic Inscription
The ancient inscription was found inside a storage pit at Khirbat er-Ra‘I, an archaeological site some 3 km northwest of Tel Lachish in Israel.
It was written in ink on a jug, a small personal pottery vessel that holds approximately one liter, and may well have contained oil, perfume, or medicine.
It contains the letters yod (broken at the top), resh, bet, ayin, and lamed, and remnants of other letters.
“The name ‘Jerubbaal’ is familiar from Biblical tradition in the Book of Judges as an alternative name for the judge Gideon ben Yoash,” said Professor Yossef Garfinkel from the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University and Dr. Saar Ganor from the Israel Antiquities Authority.
“In Biblical tradition, he is then remembered as triumphing over the Midianites, who used to cross over the Jordan to plunder agricultural crops.”
“According to the Bible, Gideon organized a small army of 300 soldiers and attacked the Midianites by night near Ma‘ayan Harod.”
“In view of the geographical distance between the Shephelah and the Jezreel Valley, this inscription may refer to another Jerubbaal and not the Gideon of Biblical tradition, although the possibility cannot be ruled out that the jug belonged to the judge Gideon.”
“In any case, the name Jerubbaal was evidently in common usage at the time of the Biblical Judges.”
Inscriptions from the period of the Judges are extremely rare and almost unparalleled in Israeli archaeology.
“As we know, there is considerable debate as to whether Biblical tradition reflects reality and whether it is faithful to historical memories from the days of the Judges and the days of David,” the archaeologists said.
“The name ‘Jerubbaal’ only appears in the Bible in the period of the Judges, yet now it was also discovered in an archaeological context, in a stratum dating from this period.”
“In a similar manner, the name ‘Ishbaal,’ which is only mentioned in the Bible during the monarchy of King David, was found in strata dated to that period at the site of Khirbat Qeiyafa.”
“The fact that identical names are mentioned in the Bible and also found in inscriptions recovered from archaeological excavations shows that memories were preserved and passed down through the generations.”
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