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The right to believe, to worship and witness
The right to change one’s belief or religion
The right to join together and express one’s belief

BURMA: Why did military authorities close Protestant churches?

Burma's military authorities have closed three Protestant Full Gospel churches in the capital Rangoon since early August, as well as a series of Protestant house churches elsewhere in the country, Burmese Protestants have told Forum 18 News Service. One Rangoon-based pastor told Forum 18 the Full Gospel churches were closed because they make too much noise during services, but the crackdown reaches much further. "Church leaders were called in by the military authorities and told to close their churches," another Protestant told Forum 18. The military authorities retain tight control over all religious activity. "If a church is not registered it is illegal," one Protestant leader reported after being warned by police intelligence not to hold unapproved worship services. "I was also warned that working with foreigners or inviting foreigners to preach in the church is likewise illegal." Over the past three years, Protestant congregations without their own place of worship have been prevented from building churches.

BURMA: Continuing large-scale religious freedom violations

Widespread religious freedom violations by the Burmese government continue, with Christians from the ethnic Karen, Karenni, Chin and Kachin nationalities and Muslim Rohingyas suffering particularly badly, Forum 18 News Service has found. It remains difficult to gather reliable information from inside Burma, but it is estimated that about 300 Buddhist monks and novices are in jail for protesting against the ruling military regime. Regime troops have pulled down the last remaining Christian cross on public display, and the regime has often forced Christian villagers to construct Buddhist pagodas in place of Christian crosses. Christians in the cities have more freedom than in rural areas and according to a Burmese church leader in Rangoon, "we cannot say we are persecuted for our faith - but there are a lot of restrictions". Religious persecution continues to be closely tied to ethnic and political conflicts, and the military regime tightly controls state-permitted religious activity.

TURKMENISTAN: Why did Turkmenistan lie to the UN?

In a failed bid to head off a United Nations (UN) resolution, sponsored by the European Union and the USA, and supported by Brazil, expressing grave concern at Turkmenistan's human rights record, Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov has falsely claimed that there were "no cases of arrest or conviction on political grounds or for religious beliefs". Three religious prisoners are known to Forum 18 News Service to be held, and arrests continue to be made. On the day of the debate he claimed that there was "no truth to the allegations of limits on the rights to belief, conscience or religion," despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and the UN's two previous resolutions critical of the country's human rights record. Turkmen officials and President Niyazov have a record of making such false claims, but the country's diplomats have refused to discuss the issue of false claims with Forum 18. Countries speaking in support of Turkmenistan in the debate were Algeria, Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Singapore, Sudan, Syria, Uzbekistan and Venezuela.

BURMA: Religious freedom survey, August 2004

In its survey analysis of the religious freedom situation in Burma, Forum 18 News Service reports on religious freedom violations against Christians, Muslims and Buddhists as part of the military regime's systematic oppression of ethnicity and dissent. Christians amongst the Karen, Karenni, Chin and Kachin ethnic national groups have found that they have been targeted through practices such as destroying churches, forcible conversion to Buddhism, and the use of forced labour. The regime also attempts to attack the religious freedom outside Burma, Burmese Buddhist monks in the United Kingdom being threatened with serious punishment if they join religious ceremonies at a Buddhist monastery in Colindale, north London. The regime often uses the language and imagery of Buddhism. But the regime's real mentality was summed up by a Burma Army battalion commander, speaking as he urinated on the head of a Buddhist monk: "I do not believe in any religion. My religion is the trigger of my gun."