Buddhists in Myanmar attack Christian villagers for holding late-night church services

The 12th-century Gawdawpalin Pahto (Temple) with Ayeyarwady (Irrawady) River on its background, Bagan, Myanmar. | Wikimedia Commons/Jialiang Gao

A mob of Buddhists reportedly attacked Christian villagers in Myanmar for holding late-night church services to celebrate and welcome new converts.

According to Morning Star News, about 150 Buddhists and monks threw stones and broke into houses of Christians in Thi Taw village in northwest Burma's Sagaing Region on July 6. Three men and four women reportedly suffered injuries on their heads, faces and backs, and three motorbikes were destroyed in the attack.

The Buddhists complained that the Assembly of God Church members, visiting from neighboring Chin state, held services for three days, singing and preaching late into the night to celebrate and welcome new Christians. Two families reportedly left Buddhism and converted to Christianity on July 4.

Prior to the attack, a monk in Thi Taw had asked the Christians to be quiet and stop making noise late at night, according to several residents.

"They made noise every night when neighbors were asleep," a local Thi Taw official, Soe Thura Hlaing told Morning Star News.

"They were clapping, and dancing until late at night. On the third day, neighbors were angry and went to attack them. They took sticks and stones with them," he continued.

Several witnesses said that the mob got very angry after being told by local police to stop attacking the houses of the Christian villagers. The mob got more infuriated when the police shot into the sky to warn and frighten the assailants.

"When we turned on the torch [light] toward them [the assailants], they threw stones also toward us," said Hlaing, who tried to help the authorities stop the attackers.

"So a policeman in our group fired the gun in the air three times. When they heard gunfire, they become more aggressive and threw more stones at us," he added.

Hlaing said that he and the police asked other monks to help them stop the attack. "When the monks arrived, we shouted for them not to throw stones. And the monks took pastors and injured people and sent them to local clinics," Hlaing recounted.

Local press noted that monks and authorities had tried to pressure the newly converted Christians to return to Buddhism by giving them a choice to either re-convert or be banished from the village. The Christian families have been relocated to a compound owned by a local church until their houses can be rebuilt.

Radical Buddhists have been known to carry out attacks on minority groups in Myanmar, particularly the Rohingya Muslims.

On July 5, a mob of Buddhists in the Rakhine state capital of Sittwe stoned a Rohingya Muslim to death and wounded six others.

According to persecution watchdog group Open Doors, an organization of radical monks have stepped up its campaigns against religious minorities, and it has helped introduce four laws for the "Protection of Race and Religion," in an effort to build hurdles for conversions and religiously mixed marriages.

Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has recently set up a commission led by former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan to investigate how sectarian tensions in the country can be solved.