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Religious Conversion Law Threatens Religious Freedom in Burma/Myanmar
The new law is based on proposals by a Buddhist organization called the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion.
(SALEM, Ore.) - Over 81 organizations from civil society worldwide today call on the Government of Burma/Myanmar to scrap proposed legislation that would unlawfully restrict the right to freely choose a religion. If adopted, this law would violate fundamental human rights and could lead to further violence against Muslims and other religious minorities in the country.
The draft “Religious Conversion Law”, published in state-run media on 27 May 2014, sets out a process for applying for official permission to convert from one religion to another. It grants Township-level officials from various government departments sweeping powers to determine whether an applicant has exercised free will in choosing to change religion.
Those found to be applying for conversion “with the intent of insulting or destroying a religion” could be punished by up to two years’ imprisonment, raising the prospect of arbitrary arrest and detention for those wishing to convert from Theravada Buddhism – the faith of the majority in Burma/Myanmar - to a minority religion, or no religion at all.
Compelling an individual to convert to another religion through “undue influence or pressure” could carry a one-year jail penalty. The broad wording of this provision may effectively outlaw proselytizing in the country.
The right to freedom of religion or belief is widely recognized as having customary international law status.
Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights explicitly states that the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion includes the freedom to change his or her religion or beliefs.
The 1981 United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief calls on States to rescind legislation where necessary to prohibit discrimination on religious grounds, and to take all appropriate measures to combat intolerance on the grounds of religion.
Under instruction from President Thein Sein and the Speaker of the Lower House of Parliament Shwe Mann, the Ministry of Religious Affairs [MoRA] drafted the law as part of a package of measures related to marriage, religion, polygamy, and family planning, based on proposals by a Buddhist organization called the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion.
The draft “Religious Conversion Law” also includes a provision granting powers to MoRA to issue further directives and procedural regulations regarding the implementation of the legislation.
Although MoRA lists its first objective on its website as “to allow freedom of faith”, its second objective is “for the purification, perpetuation, promotion and propagation of the Theravada Buddhist Sasana [teachings]”.
The Ministry has also been implicated in imposing restrictive and discriminatory measures on minority religions.
This new piece of draft legislation appears to legitimize the views of those promoting hate-speech and inciting violence against Muslims and other minorities, and if adopted, will further institutionalize discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities.
We urge the Government to scrap the proposed “Religious Conversion Law”, and to take the following steps:
Furthermore, we call on the international community to publicly urge the Government of Burma/Myanmar to immediately scrap the proposed legislation. The international community must make concerted efforts to press the Government to implement the above recommendations as a matter of priority, in order to protect the right to freedom of religion or belief and to prevent further violence against religious minorities.
Salem-News.com Human Rights Ambassador William Nicholas Gomes is a Bangladeshi journalist, human rights activist and author was born on 25 December, 1985 in Dhaka. As an investigative journalist he wrote widely for leading European and Asian media outlets.
He is also active in advocating for free and independent media and journalists’ rights, and is part of the free media movement, Global Independent Media Center – an activist media network for the creation of radical, accurate, and passionate telling of the truth. He worked for Italian news agency Asianews.it from year 2009 to 2011, on that time he was accredited as a free lance journalist by the press information department of Bangladesh. During this time he has reported a notable numbers of reports for the news agency which were translated into Chinese and Italian and quoted by notable number of new outlets all over the world.He, ideologically, identifies himself deeply attached with anarchism. His political views are often characterized as “leftist” or “left-wing,” and he has described himself as an individualist anarchist.
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