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DETROIT (ChurchMilitant.com) - Islamic countries are notorious for persecuting non-Muslims; what is less well known is the record of abuse from Buddhists across the world.
"In the West, Buddhism is synonymous with peace, compassion, wisdom and ecumenical brotherhood," observes Vaticanista Sandro Magister. "Moreover, Buddhism has a reputation as a persecuted religion, and Tibet is the emblem of this."
But in recent years, reports have emerged containing "striking evidence of a contrary nature."
"In almost all of the Asian states in which Buddhism is the majority religion," Magister notes, "there is cruel religious repression. And this strikes all of the non-Buddhist religions."
The most recent example of this came ahead of the Vatican's announcement last week that Pope Francis will head to South Asia in November to visit Bangladesh and Myanmar.
During his August 27 address in St. Peter's Square, the Pope condemned attacks against Myanmar's largely Muslim Rohingya community.
"Sad news has come about the persecution of a religious minority, our Rohingya brothers," said Francis. "I would like to express all my nearness to them. And let us all ask the Lord to save them and to raise up men and women of good will in their aid, who will give them their full rights."
In Myanmar, 80–90 percent of the population adheres to Buddhism. The country ranks 23rd on Open Doors USA's World Watch List of countries most hostile to Christians.
Christians make up roughly 8.5 percent of Myanmar's population, but according to a 2016 report by Christian Aid Mission, "Professing allegiance to Christ alone is seen as angering the very spirits both villagers and urban dwellers hope to placate."
Nationalist religious movements have increased in Myanmar in recent years, with Buddhist nationalists pressing the government to enact laws to stem conversions to Christianity and prevent interfaith marriages.
In 2016, Myanmar held its first democratic elections in a quarter-century. During the campaign period, the army continued attacks on ethnic minorities. In addition, "an organization of Buddhist radical monks (Ma Ba Tha) increased their campaigns against religious minorities and successfully helped introduce four laws for the 'Protection of Race and Religion,' building insurmountable hurdles for conversions and religiously mixed marriages."
Persecution of Christianity and other non-Buddhist faiths is not limited to Myanmar. Across Asia, Buddhist countries routinely oppress the religious rights of non-Buddhists.
Persecution against Christians is increasing in Vietnam, with reports of arrests, beatings and land-grabbing on the rise. According to Open Doors, "Converts to Christianity from Buddhist or ethnic-animist backgrounds face the strongest persecution, which comes not only from the authorities but also from families, friends and neighbors." The plight of Vietnam's Christians worsened last November, when the Communist government passed a new law, the Law on Belief and Religion, which seriously undermined religious freedom for Christians.
In nearby Laos, meanwhile, where the Communist People's Revolutionary Party has held sway since 1975, Buddhist temples serve as "centers of social and religious life" and "most Lao men are expected to spend some time serving in a temple." Other faiths are regarded as alien and "Christians refusing to participate in Buddhist practices are perceived as foreign and a threat to traditional culture." Laotian Christian leaders are subject to arbitrary arrest; some have even been killed.
Bhutan views Buddhism as the kingdom's spiritual foundation and regards Christianity as a foreign threat. The country's Christians are persecuted for leaving Buddhism, and religious services have been forced underground, "especially in rural areas, where Buddhist monks fiercely oppose the presence of Christians."
In Sri Lanka, a campaign of violence is being waged against Christian believers. According to Release International, Christians are targeted by Buddhist monks and the government. Worship services have been disbanded and churches closed. Monks have even prevented Christians from burying their dead in public cemeteries.
Release International chief executive Paul Robinson notes, "You don't normally associate Buddhism with violence, but time and again we hear that it is Buddhist monks who are leading the attacks against the churches. And our partners have found the monks are being aided by pro-Buddhist authorities."