Buddhist monks are political force
It is estimated that in the time since Than Shwe's military regime came to power in 1988, about 300 monks have been defrocked and sentenced to long terms of imprisonment. In 1990, over 130 monasteries were raided in Mandalay, a stronghold base for monks in central Burma, and monks were defrocked and imprisoned due to their boycott against the Burmese government.
Buddhist monks have also earned strong citizen support in other highly restrictive countries in the region, such as Vietnam and Cambodia. Still, Burma is likely the worst of its stringent peers, claimed U Zawana.
“It is very bad that Burmese authorities ban Buddhist monks, particularly those believed to be anti-government monks, from delivering religious speeches,” said U Zawana.
U Gambira, one of the most prominent leaders who led the anti-government protests in 2007, was finally released from prison on January 13 of this year.
However, in early February, U Gambira was again detained on allegations that he had broken into three monasteries in Rangoon following his release from prison. Burmese authorities had shuttered the monasteries during their crackdown on the monk-led protests in 2007. U Gambira was again detained and questioned by police throughout the night of March 6, though he remains free as of this writing.
Burma is a multi-ethnic nation, full of different cultures and religions. Despite Buddhism's dominance, there are vibrant minority Christian communities, such as Kachin, Karen, Chin, Karenni and few of Shan people.
Apart from Bhuddism, Christian communities also suffered discrimination and suppression at the hands of the government, especially in remote areas in ethnic states.
On March 27, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom released its 2012 Annual Report, which includes Burma on its list of “countries of particular concern”. The statement comes amid reports of Bibles being burnt and Christian gatherings being disrupted in Kachin and Chin states.
Burma's first Prime Minister U Nu, who is disliked by many ethnic leaders, established Buddhism as national religion, a status enshrined in the country's constitution of 1947. At that time, government troops began attacking Christian communities and destroying churches and religious halls, especially in Kachin State, where the population is more than 90 percent Christian.
There is some strategic purpose for troops to target monasteries and churches of all religious persuasions. They are often used as meeting points for dissidents, makeshift hospitals, as well as places of refuge in emergencies.
And the government harassment continues today. On March 10, Burmese government troops disrupted a Christian conference and threatened a Member of Parliament at gunpoint in southern Chin State, according to the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO).
Also, Burmese government troops reportedly ransacked Sin Lum Pang Mu Baptist Church in Kachin State, on March 13, burning Bibles and looting, according to the report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.