There were reports of physical abuse and continued detention of religious leaders and believers, restrictions on religious practice and travel, and discrimination in employment and granting building permits.
Burmese government soldiers reportedly injured Christian religious leaders and damaged buildings during skirmishes in Kachin State, blocked access to churches in areas of active conflict, and built Buddhist monasteries in predominantly Christian areas. In September government soldiers in northern Kachin State’s Putao district reportedly detained and physically abused Baptist clergy and stole alms from a Baptist church in Nhka Ga village. In late October soldiers reportedly shelled a Baptist church harboring an estimated 700 villagers in Mung Ding Pa village.
There were reports that local border security authorities known as the Nasaka, a security arm of the Ministry of Border Affairs, were involved in myriad abuses against the Muslim population in Rakhine State, prior to the government’s order to disband the Nasaka in July. Security forces that replaced the Nasaka reportedly also engaged in abuses against Muslim communities, including arbitrary arrests and detentions, restrictions on movement that impeded access to livelihoods and healthcare, and extortion. There also were reports of mass detentions of Muslims who were denied basic due process rights, and of Muslim detainees suffering beatings, physical and verbal abuse, and denial of food.
The government continued to detain Shin Nyana, a monk sentenced in 2010 to 20 years imprisonment for his teaching of a religious doctrine that did not comport with Theravada Buddhism, and U Ottama, reportedly a member of the same sect as Shin Nyana, sentenced in 2012 to two years imprisonment. Authorities reportedly denied the monks permission to keep the Buddhist Sabbath, wear robes, or shave their heads while in prison. They were also at times not allowed food compatible with their monastic code. According to reports, these were the only two monks in detention.
Authorities often denied Muslims living in Rakhine State permission to travel for any purpose; however, permission sometimes was obtained through bribery. Authorities granted Muslims in other regions more freedom to travel, but they still faced restrictions. For example, Muslims living in Rangoon needed permission from immigration authorities to travel into and out of Rakhine State. Authorities in Mandalay Division denied freedom of movement to Muslims displaced by violence in Meiktila and living in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs), and withheld permission for the majority of the displaced Muslims to return to their homes and rebuild on their land. Local authorities in some cases reportedly denied Muslims permission to own land.
Muslim businesses were unable to procure government contracts without a Buddhist “front” person and were prevented from owning licenses to open airlines and banking businesses.
Although the government developed initial strategies to address the issue of citizenship of the Rohingya, the strategies were not cohesive, implementation was not sustained, and the Rohingya continued to be denied citizenship status. This denial was based on traditional assumptions that the Rohingya were “illegal immigrants,” claims that the Rohingya did not meet the legal requirement for citizenship (that their ancestors resided in the country before the start of British colonial rule in 1824), and a lack of a transparent process to determine citizenship. Many Rohingya asserted their ancestors’ presence in the area predated the British arrival by decades or even centuries. Without citizenship status, the Rohingya did not have access to secondary education in state-run schools. Authorities did not permit Muslim high school graduates from Rakhine State, including Rohingya and others living in IDP camps, to travel outside the state to attend college or university. Authorities continued to bar Muslim university students who did not possess national registration cards from graduating. These students were permitted to attend classes and take examinations, but they could not receive diplomas unless they claimed a “foreign” ethnic minority affiliation. The Rohingya also were unable to obtain employment in any civil service positions. Rohingya couples needed to obtain government permission to marry and faced restrictions on the number of children they could have legally. Authorities also restricted their access to healthcare. Authorities prevented Muslims from living in Rakhine State’s Gwa or Taungup areas.
Numerous individuals in Chin State and the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights reported a significant easing of restrictions against the Christian majority in the state. Unlike in past years, there were no reports of the destruction of Christian crosses. In response to a request by the Chin State government and in an effort to facilitate timely approval of permits, the central government granted the state government authority to approve requests for the construction of religious buildings. There were, however, continued reports that some local government officials denied or delayed permits to build Christian churches.
In addition to religious publications, the government subjected Islamic sermons, ceremonies, and festivals to censorship and other controls. There were reports that Islamic events required prior written permission first from ward, then township, police, district, and division level authorities. Law enforcement officers reportedly questioned participants on the nature of the lectures.
Some Christian theological seminaries and Bible schools continued to operate, along with several Islamic madrassahs.
Authorities continued to restrict gatherings to celebrate traditional Islamic holidays. In satellite towns surrounding Rangoon, Muslims generally were allowed to gather for worship and religious training outside the mosque only during major Islamic holidays and with prior permission.
Nearly all promotions to senior positions within the military and civil service were reserved for Buddhists. The government discouraged Muslims from enlisting in the military and Christian or Muslim military officers who aspired to promotion beyond the rank of major were encouraged by their superiors to convert to Buddhism. Some Muslims who wished to join the military reportedly had to list “Buddhist” as their religion on applications, although they were not required to convert.
In most regions, Christian and Islamic groups that sought to build small places of worship on side streets or other inconspicuous locations were able to do so only with informal approval from local authorities. Christian groups said formal construction requests for religious buildings in prominent locations often were approved and with fewer delays than in the past. Religious officials in Kachin State, however, reported state officials refused permission for churches to construct any buildings, including a health clinic, suggesting that only the central government could approve such requests. In Chin State, local authorities reportedly denied permission to build and repair religious facilities and continued to prohibit Christian groups and churches from buying land in the name of their religious organizations. Individual members of these groups circumvented this requirement by purchasing land on behalf of the group, a practice the government tolerated.
Muslim groups reported building requests encountered significant delays, were often denied, and even when approved could subsequently be reversed by more senior authorities. It remained extremely difficult for Muslims to acquire permission to repair existing mosques, although internal maintenance was allowed in some cases. Historic mosques in Mawlamyine, Mon State, and Sittwe, Rakhine State, as well as in Rangoon and other areas, continued to deteriorate because authorities did not allow routine maintenance.
The government openly supported Buddhist seminaries and permitted them to construct large campuses. Buddhist groups generally did not experience difficulty in obtaining permission to build new pagodas, monasteries, or community religious halls.
The government allowed members of religious groups to establish and maintain links with coreligionists in other countries and to travel abroad for religious purposes. The government sometimes expedited its burdensome passport issuance procedures for Muslims making the Hajj or for Buddhists going on pilgrimage to India. Approximately 3,500 non-Rohingya Muslims participated in the Hajj during the year. The government expedited passport issuance for 350 of the pilgrims and simplified procedures for all Hajj travelers.
The SSMNC and Ministry of Religion subjected the sangha to restrictions on political expression and association. In response to the participation of monks in sectarian violence and in the 969 Movement, a nationalist movement ostensibly aimed at protecting and promoting Buddhism but characterized by anti-Muslim messaging, the SSMNC issued a September 2 directive to the community of Buddhist clergy explicitly calling for a halt to the formation of 969 organizations. The directive followed the committee’s July 15 decision that the formation of 969 organizations by Buddhist clergy was tantamount to the establishment of a non-recognized religious sect in violation of sangha rules.
State-controlled media frequently depicted government officials and family members paying homage to Buddhist monks, offering donations at pagodas; officiating at ceremonies to open, improve, restore, or maintain pagodas; and organizing “people’s donations” of money, food, and uncompensated labor to build or refurbish Buddhist shrines nationwide. The government published books on Buddhist religious instruction.
While communal and sectarian violence increased, the government took some positive steps to address it. The president in March publicly condemned violence, a message he repeated throughout the year in published speeches and national radio addresses. The government held many perpetrators of violence, both Muslim and Buddhist, accountable. Criticized in 2012 and early 2013 for failing to take quick public action against Buddhist perpetrators of anti-Muslim violence in Rakhine State and Meiktila, Mandalay Division, the government acted swiftly to detain Rakhine Buddhist leaders following sectarian violence largely targeting the Kaman Muslim population in Thandwe, Rakhine State, in late September and early October. Nevertheless, reports of unbalanced treatment of religious groups continued. Courts sentenced Buddhists to prison terms of up to 15 years for crimes related to community violence, including murder, but sentenced a Muslim man implicated in the same violence to life in prison.