Two well-known Baptist ministers from Dagon North Township were arrested by the military junta on 5th April. They are currently detained in Burma's notorious Insein prison.
Rev. That Ci, his son-in-law Rev. Lian Za Dal, and eight family members were arrested by the Township and District authorities during a midnight raid at Rev. Ci's residence in Dagon North Township, outside Rangoon city.
The authorities accused Rev. That Ci of failing to register houseguests when his daughter and son-in-law, Rev. Lian Za Dal, the minister of Pin Long Church in Dagon North Township, came to spend the night at his house. Under the military dictatorship, citizens of Burma are required to register houseguests, including members of their extended family.
According to credible sources, Rev. That Ci attempted to file a guest registration at the Block Peace and Development Council office that afternoon but his application was turned down on the basis that it needed to be reviewed by the Township authority.
Local Christians believe the arrest is a renewed effort to curb Christian activities in Rangoon.
Both Rev. That Ci and Rev. Lian Za Dal are prominent Christian leaders in Dagon North area. The Township and District authorities had on numerous occasions warned both of them to stop proselytising.
On the afternoon of 5 April, a military unit visited Pin Long Church to pressurize Rev. Lian Za Dal to pledge, in writing, to stop holding church services. Rev. Lian Za Dal refused to sign the undertaking on the basis that he had done nothing against the regime.
The authorities had also previously warned the minister not to construct a church building in the local area.
For the past three years, the United States Department of State has designated Burma as a 'Country of Particular Concern' for violating religious freedom.
Although there is no specific legislation against proselytism, civil, political, social and economic rights are severely restricted. Gatherings of five or more people are illegal unless prior permission from the authorities is obtained. Religious publications are subject to tight state censorship. The Christian community continues to experience extreme difficulties in obtaining permission to construct or repair places or worship. Most old church buildings are dilapidated and in urgent need of repair.
Last summer, the regime closed down over 80 churches in and around Rangoon. Most of these churches have not reopened, although some have relocated. According to the Chin Human Rights Organisation, both Rev. Lian Za Dal and Rev. That Ci were transferred to Insein Prison on 8th April 2002. The whereabouts of the other family members remained unclear.
Prison conditions in Burma are harsh and prisoners are often denied proper sanitation, adequate medical care, food and water. Trials of prisoners repeatedly fail to meet international standards for fair trial procedures.
Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of CSW said, "Christian Solidarity Worldwide is concerned for the safety and well-being of all those arrested on 5 April. It is vital that past discrimination against these individuals is not used to prejudice the authorities on what is already a dubious accusation."
CSW has called on the State Peace and Development Council to immediately and unconditionally release Rev. Lian Za Dal, Rev. That Ci and their family members.