Yangon,2 Sya’ban 1435/31 May 2014 (MINA) –A draft law that would ban people in Myanmar from changing religion without permission from the government has been put before parliament, sparking outrage from rights groups.
The draft is the first of four expected in response to proposals by a group of radical monks who claim they are acting to protect Buddhism and encourage peace between religions, Anadolu Agency quoted by Mi’raj Islamic News Agency (MINA) as reporting.
But women’s organizations and other rights groups say the set of proposed laws, one of which restricts interfaith marriage, are an attack on gender equality and would provide legal backing to a nationwide campaign of hatred against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims.
The country has been blighted by repeated outbreaks of religious violence since it began to emerge from military dictatorship in 2010. The attacks, which have disproportionately targeted Muslims, have killed scores and displaced tens of thousands.
The proposed law now before parliament would require anyone wanting to convert to a religion to get permission from a panel formed of local government officials. It is not yet clear what the punishment would be for failing to get permission before converting.
Observers fear the bill will deepen religious tensions and say it is likely to affect Myanmar’s Christian population too.
Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement Friday, “Requiring government permission to change one’s faith breaches every tenet of religious freedom and provides officials wide latitude to act arbitrarily and deny permission.”
The move is part of campaign by a group of monks called the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion, known locally as Ma Ba Tha.
The group is linked to a notorious anti-Muslim campaign known as 969, which has been accused of stoking religious violence since gaining prominence in recent years.
Ma Ba Tha is pushing for the introduction of three other laws government drafts of which have not yet been released – that would restrict interfaith marriage, ban polygamy and address population control issues.
The group sent the four draft laws to President Thein Sein last year. The papers were then sent to various ministries with instructions that they be written up as government endorsed drafts.
The government printed the full draft regarding conversion in state-run media Tuesday and said it will accept comments from the public until June 20, after which the draft will be introduced to the lower house of parliament.
If the law is passed, anyone wishing to convert will be required to apply to four different ministries covering religion, women’s affairs, population and education. They’ll then have to wait 90 days to find out if they’ve been granted permission. (T/P012/P04)
Mi’raj Islamic News Agency (MINA)