The oppression of Rohingya Christians in Myanmar
More than one million Rohingya in Myanmar’s Rakhine State have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh, where most of them found sanctuary in the Kutupalong refugee camp, which is considered the world's largest base.
The Rohingya are predominantly Muslim, but there are also a small number of Christians among them. Most Rohingya Christians are people who converted to Christianity within the last 20 years. They are not only persecuted for their ethnicity, but also vulnerable to persecution for their faith from within their own community. It may sound surprising in this day and age, but the majority of Rohingyas do not have any citizenship, therefore no state will defend them from persecution. The Burmese government treats them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and refuses to even use the term “Rohingya”. They were forced to declare themselves as “Bengali” during the 2014 national census of Myanmar.
The situation is even more perilous for the Rohingya Christians, who often face threats, beatings, vandalism and looting of their homes. These vicious attacks leave them severely injured and hospitalized on a regular basis. Christian converts may be kidnapped and brought to a mosque for forced reversion to Islam. Girls and women are often kidnapped and forcibly married to their Muslim captors. Recently, one of the abducted girl’s father, a Christian pastor, was assassinated.
Christians also have to grapple with false accusations, forcing them to pay high legal fees to defend themselves in court. This leaves many families penniless and desperate.
The main delinquent is the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), a Rohingya armed group that has carried out attacks against the Burmese military, as well as Rohingya Christians. They have been responsible for at least one massacre of up to 99 Hindu women, men, and children as well as additional unlawful killings and abductions of Hindu villagers.
According to Mohammad Sadeq, a Rohingya Christian, more than half of Rohingya Muslims is in favour of ARSA attacks against Rohingya Christians. “They can go to the authorities, but justice is not done.” In a Muslim-majority nation Christian victims who complain, often have their ration cards confiscated.”
Sadeq points out that the mainstream media does not report the ongoing sufferings of the Rohingya Christians: “They are not concerned about us. If a Rohingya Muslim is found to be friends with the Rohingya Christians, they would be expelled from their community or they would be beaten to death by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army. When they assassinated a Muslim leader, his family members and the relatives were resettled to Canada by the the UN Refugee Agency, as was another Muslim activist. But they are silent to the persecution often faced by the Rohingya Christians. One of the pastors was also killed by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, and his family is still there in Bangladesh without safety”.
According to Peter Saiful, a pastor at the Bethel Church: Rohingya Christian Fellowship, 70% of Rohingya Muslims support the anti-Christian attacks. ” This is because of their Islamic scholars who preach hate speech against Christianity”. The pastor, who resides in Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh, says “there are a lot of good Muslims, but if they raise their voice then groups like ARSA will kill them”.
Another reason why the media would not report the atrocities is that whenever Christians are attacked in the refugee camp, authorities would prevent journalists from entering the area. “Bangladesh doesn’t want the Rohingya Christian issue to be highlighted” added pastor Saiful “ARSA sexually abused seven women during the attacks, which was not reported by the media”.
Rohingya Christians would prefer to return to their homeland of Rakhine State in Myanmar, but the 2021 military coup prevented this from happening.
Pastor Saiful added “Our plea to the international community is to come forward to push the government of Bangladesh to investigate the terrorist attacks towards the Christians in camp. There needs to be real freedom of religious practice and real protection of Rohingya Christians.”