Burma’s President approves curbs on religious freedoms

Burma’s president has approved a set of controversial draft religious laws inspired by radical Buddhist monks and sent them to parliament, reports the Japan Times, prompting rights groups to voice alarm over the divisive nature of the proposals.

The draft legislation — including curbs on interfaith marriage, religious conversion and birth rates — will be debated and voted on in the coming parliamentary session, according to the director of the president’s office, Zaw Htay.

“The president had to draft the bills, but it is (parliament’s) responsibility to enact them,” he said.

Rising Buddhist chauvinism — and the government’s apparent willingness to acquiesce to it — has sparked fears that religion could becoming increasingly politicized as the former junta-run nation heads toward crunch 2015 elections.

The drafts were initially proposed by a group of nationalist monks known as Mabatha, or the Committee for the Protection of Nationality and Religion, who have been accused of fanning intolerance in Buddhist-majority Burma after several outbreaks of violence against minority Muslims.

The religious conversion draft, published earlier this year, would also require anyone wanting to change religion to seek a slew of bureaucratic permissions.

That bill “has no place in the 21st century,” according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which warned that together the proposals risk stoking violence and discrimination.

A Mabatha leaflet claimed that the ills of interfaith marriage range from rape, murder and forced conversion to “not saluting the Myanmar national flag.”


This week Valerie Vaz MP raised a parliamentary question on humanitarian access to Rohingya Muslims who are displaced in Rakhine state. Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire MP stated that the UK Government have raised concerns at the situation of the Rohingya community in every Ministerial contact with the Burmese Government. The Minister also said that the Foreign Secretary had raised the situation in Rakhine State in a phone call with his Burmese counterpart, U Wunna Maung Lwin, in April.