A screengrab from a video that circulated on Facebook last month shows Wa soldiers demolishing a Christian cross.
The powerful United Wa State Army has freed over 100 Christians who were detained in a recent crackdown against members of the religion in the autonomous northeastern region.
The detainees were released Tuesday on the condition that they would not hold sermons at churches and instead would worship at home, Rev. Dr. Lazaru, general secretary of the Lahu Baptist Convention, told Myanmar Now.
Seven other religious leaders have yet to be freed because they rejected the UWSA’s conditions, while over a hundred more including dozens of theological students are still in detention, he added.
Former detainees told him the UWSA was also planning to place restrictions on what Christian leaders could preach to their congregations, he said.
Last month UWSA soldiers demolished three churches and closed down another 52, the Lahu Baptist Convention said in a September 25 statement, as they rounded up preachers, pastors, congregants and students.
UWSA spokesperson Nyi Rang said the clampdown was a response to the “extremist” activities of some Christian leaders. The churches were demolished because they were built without official permission, he added.
“We have released over 100 Christian religious leaders this week. But we are still questioning the remaining seven officials,” he told Myanmar Now in via telephone on Thursday.
He said he was unable to confirm reports that some of those detained were forced into military service, but noted that it is compulsory for at least one family member from every household in the region to join the army.
“Some people might use religion as a pretext to avoid military service,” he said.
The UWSA, headquartered in Pangsang along the China-Myanmar border in Shan State, has an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 soldiers and is backed by the Chinese government.
Some analysts have suggested the recent crackdown follows pressure from China to target Christians because the country views them as tools of Western influence.
(Editing by Joshua Carroll)