Burmese Govt Publishes Draft of Religious Conversion Bill
In the Buddhist-majority Burma, the government began a parliamentary session yesterday to discuss a controversial draft bill on restrictions to religious conversions and interfaith marriages under the guise of “protect race and religion”. If the bill is passed, people have to ask permission from the government, in order to convert to another religion. Buddhist women may be barred from marrying outside faith. People are worried about a loss of religious freedom.
By LAWI WENG
05/29/2014 Burma (The Irrawaddy) — Burma’s government is asking for public feedback on a controversial religious conversion bill that many activists have condemned as restrictive and undemocratic.
State-run newspapers on Tuesday published a draft of the bill, which is part of a package of proposed legislation to “protect race and religion” in the Buddhist-majority country.
The government says the religious conversion bill, drafted by the Ministry of Religious Affairs, is intended to prevent forced conversions. According to the draft published in newspapers, forcing someone to convert to another religion would be punishable by one year in prison, while insulting another religion would be punishable by between one and two years in prison.
But activists in Burma have raised alarm over the restrictive nature of the bill, which also requires people to seek permission and register with local government authorities before converting.
According to the draft bill, authorities would ask several questions about an applicant’s reasons for changing faiths. Approval or rejection of the conversion request would occur within 90 days.
Burma’s Constitution guarantees freedom of religion. However, the country has seen a surge of anti-Muslim violence in recent years, while a growing movement of Buddhist monks has urged people to shun Muslim businesses.
This movement, known as 969, has seen firebrand monks such as U Wirathu preach sermons warning that the Muslim population in the country is increasing. Some observers see the government’s attempts to “protect race and religion” as a way to specifically stop Buddhist women from converting to Islam if they marry a Muslim man.
Some monks have spoken against discrimination, including Mandalay-based U Kavira, who cautioned against passing any bill that negatively targets religious minorities.
“It is important to have sincerity when issuing the bill. There should be no bias,” he told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday.
In state-run newspapers, the government provided a fax number along with the draft bill, urging people to send their suggestions for possible changes.