Myan­mar ap­proves con­tro­ver­sial re­li­gion bills

Mizzima Business Weekly - - AFFAIRS // NEWS -

Myan­mar’s par­lia­ment passed two con­tro­ver­sial bills pro­posed by hard­line Bud­dhist na­tion­al­ists, MPs said Au­gust 20, com­plet­ing a pack­age of leg­is­la­tion that ac­tivists fear will curb re­li­gious free­doms as anti-Mus­lim ten­sions fes­ter.

The bills reg­u­lat­ing re­li­gious con­ver­sion and polygamy were ap­proved by par­lia­ment on Thurs­day, ac­cord­ing to a spokesman for Aung San Suu Kyi’s op­po­si­tion, who said his party had voted against the pro­posed leg­is­la­tion over fears that it was detri­men­tal to hu­man rights.

“The bills were ap­proved by par­lia­ment. We are just mi­nor­ity party, so things do not al­ways hap­pen like we sug­gest,” Na­tional League for Democ­racy MP Win Myint told AFP.

Full de­tails of their con­tent have yet to be re­leased but the leg­is­la­tion was pro­posed by rad­i­cal monks who have risen to promi­nence in re­cent years, claim­ing that the ma­jor­ity Bud­dhist re­li­gion is un­der threat.

Their in­flu­ence has grown in tan­dem with sim­mer­ing anti-Mus­lim sen­ti­ment that has oc­ca­sion­ally spilled into waves of deadly blood­shed.

While there were scant de­tails on the bills, the polygamy law re­port­edly in­cludes a pro­vi­sion to crim­i­nalise ex­tra-mar­i­tal af­fairs, while the con­ver­sion law will ap­par­ently make it harder for peo­ple to change re­li­gion.

Two other bills that cam­paign­ers say are an af­front to women’s rights and re­li­gious free­doms, curb­ing in­ter-faith mar­riage and fam­ily size, have also been ap­proved in re­cent months.

They come as Myan­mar pre­pares for cru­cial Novem­ber 8 elec­tions that are seen as a key test of its demo­cratic tran­si­tion af­ter decades of iron-fisted mil­i­tary rule.

David Mathieson of watchdog Hu­man Rights Watch said the leg­is­la­tion “cham­pi­ons an ul­tra-na­tion­al­ist agenda” and could fuel re­li­gious in­sta­bil­ity.

“This could be used in the lead up and af­ter the elec­tion to crack down on re­li­gious mi­nori­ties,” he said.

Na­tion­al­ist monk Wi­rathu wel­comed par­lia­ment’s de­ci­sion Thurs­day.

“All cit­i­zens are safe if we have these laws. They are very im­por­tant for peace and na­tional se­cu­rity,” he told AFP.

The monk has earned in­terna- tional no­to­ri­ety for his fire­brand speeches, in­clud­ing call­ing the UN rights en­voy Yanghee Lee a “whore” ear­lier this year over her ad­vo­cacy for the rights of Myan­mar’s Ro­hingya Mus­lim mi­nor­ity.

The Bud­dhist Women’s Spe­cial Mar­riage bill, which was ap­proved by par­lia­ment in July, is the most con­tro­ver­sial of the bills and has not yet passed into law.

A draft pub­lished in De­cem­ber laid out a web of rules gov­ern­ing mar­riage be­tween Bud­dhist women and men of other faiths.

It in­cluded a rule that the cou­ple must ap­ply to lo­cal author­i­ties for per­mis­sion to marry. Fail­ure to com­ply was pun­ish­able by a twoyear jail term.

Pop­u­la­tion con­trol leg­is­la­tion, al­low­ing re­gional gov­ern­ments to in­tro­duce reg­u­la­tions to lower birth rates be­came law af­ter re­ceiv­ing pres­i­den­tial ap­proval in May.

The Euro­pean Union last month warned that taken to­gether the leg­is­la­tion could “un­der­mine the tran­si­tion to­wards na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and an open demo­cratic so­ci­ety”.


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