Burmese Govt Publishes Draft of Religious Conversion Bill

politics, religion

A draft of the religious conversion law published in state media on Tuesday. (Photo: Sai Zaw / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — 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.

Abu Tahay, a Rohingya Muslim leader and chairman of the Union National Development Party, said his party would send recommendations.

“Burma has multiple religions and the country is moving toward democracy. If there are restrictions on religion, this will tarnish the image of democracy,” he told The Irrawaddy.

Zaw Win Aung, joint chairman of the Christian Association Council in Mandalay, said he was worried about a loss of religious freedom.

“It is unacceptable for people to be required to ask permission if they want to convert to another religion,” he told The Irrawaddy.

“I am worried this regulation will be similar to Article 18,” he said, referring to a law that requires Burmese people to get permission from authorities before staging protests. “They would take action if you convert to another religion without permission.”

The “protection of race and religion” legislation package includes four controversial bills. In addition to the religion conversion bill, it includes a bill that restricts interfaith marriage, a bill that puts forward population control measures, and another that bans polygamy.

19 Responses to Burmese Govt Publishes Draft of Religious Conversion Bill

  1. How can regime force this law? Switching religious belief or switching denomination is just a personal thing and right. Buddhist sharia law makes myanmar regime absolutely authoritarian than democratic. No one I mean no even thein sein or min aung hlaing has no power to enforce this bogus law on me.

  2. When majority group try to bully the minority, it is an ugly history for the majority. This law will not work anyway. Whom to marry or what religious faith we switch is none of government’s business. Every human being has freedom of religion. If the Buddhists do not have freedom of choice to choose, it is up to them.

  3. We the Christian will keep embracing love and inclusiveness. All are welcomed in our society. No discrimination on genders(men/women/gays) and origins. I have three handsome sons and they are available to any lady who love them. Buddhist ladies especially can marry them without requiring to convert into Christianity. Faith is personal. My wife and I welcome Buddhist ladies to come and meet our handsome boys.

  4. Repression has taken refuge under the cloak of legal and judicial action starting from Article 18. Examples abound in post-dictatorship years including punitive actions by the Sangha Mahanayaka, a quango that ostensibly regulates the monks but actually does the bidding of the regime. One rule for Wirathu, another for the rest such as Shwe Nya Wa Sayadaw. All part of a ‘seamless transition’ starting from the Nargis Constitution.

    This alien concept to Buddhism of religious intolerance and bigotry has also taken refuge under the cloak of patriotism. Scoundrels pursuing an agenda of cast iron domination in the nation’s political, economic and cultural life… that’s what they are, the lot of them including Wirathu, a regime stooge in a monk’s robes who nailed his colours to the mast from the start.

    These barely disguised attempts at continued repression in a legal and constitutional form must be vigorously resisted. Everything is in preparation and meticulously planned for the military staying in power. The regime has only themselves to blame if the whole cynical manipulation to that end begins to unravel, as they become unstuck and come to grief.

  5. If a Buddhist woman falls in love with a Muslim man and she willingly switches her Buddhist faith to Muslim, who will go to find her and arrest her? Also, if a Muslim woman falls in love with a Buddhist man, and switching her religion and adopts Buddhism, is Min Aung Hlaing going to arrest her? Freedom of religion is freedom to have choice as he or she wants to anytime he/she wants. Freedom of religion also is freedom from religion too. I have the right to be an atheist if I do not believe in any kind of religious teaching. It is what real democracy is all about. Freedom of religion means every citizen has the right to choose to believe or not to believe any religion. No democratic government can regulate and impose on us how to behave relating on our personal belief and faith. I can be a Buddhist today and a Muslim tomorrow. It is none of others’ business but myself. Having adult woman as mistress is not a crime as long as she opens her legs willingly to someone. It may be morally low but it is not a crime. All the regime’s generals have mistresses everywhere. It is not criminal act. We the people will never try to prosecute them in the court of law for that act. But, these same generals are trying to draft law which bans inter-faiths matrimony. When will they start to have shame?

  6. Hlutdaw approved Human Right Bill but Hlutdaw is about to reverse that approved Human Right Law by approving Interfaith Marriage Law. This Interfaith Marriage Law will surely violates Human Rights.

  7. Do they not know what to do for the country? By drafting this discriminating and human right violating law, Myanmar is not going forward to democratic nation but it is going backward to Fundamentalist Buddhist Nation. It is okay to have fundamental Buddhists in the land. But their extreme view or philosophy must not be the law of the land. No extremism is good extremism. It will be suicidal to the regime in the future because extremism has no space in a wider society.

  8. To be very frank,i support this.Although we live in a democratic society, countries(Malaysia) surrounding us have similar programs. Our religious beliefs and concepts are extremely different from Muslim beliefs. We really do need to protect it if not it’ll be like Malaysia and Indonesia in a long run. If one religion teach us not to force people and the other says totally opposite,there is a problem. We need to protect it if not we’ll be converted in the near future. I’m sorry to say this but if we look at the world today and most problem created religious background is obvious. Must we be bomb in the middle of Yangon CBD and kill many people to realize this fact?How is it that foreign governments think its not fair and undemocratic when their countries are Christianity? Ours is a tolerant religion and this is where the problems are. America and the Western nations went and took revenge when their 911 happened and yet they suddenly interrupt on our obligations to protect our roots of Buddhism?Just doesn’t make sense.

    • You are just a messed up and confused person. Many buddhist burmese who live in america have full freedom of religion. Buddhist burmese have monasteries everywhere under 501c3. I visited buddhist burmese monastery in amarillo, texas. Also visited one in austin, texas. Also one in houston, texas. Several more in southern and bay area of california. They enjoy equal protection from freedom of religion law. The same law is for everyone. In myanmar, amyo, barthar and tharthanar seem just for the Ethnic buddhist myanmars. If this law is just to protect buddhism, the good Lord will not allow you guys to discriminate and to suppress the minority groups. God is a just one and loves justice which myanmar regime fails to do.

  9. I did not know buddhist burmese had marital problems with other faiths before this. I met several burmese women who got married with American men and converted into Christianity willingly. It seems to me like to the burmese women love is above buddha. I think their extreme monks are pushing the burmese women at the edge. I feel sorry for them.making special law is going to effect in their love life. They will lose freedom of religion and freedom of choice for lifetime partnership.

    • No monk or lay person outside the family has the effing right to tell our women whom they can or cannot marry.

      Burmese women have always married for love and yes, eloped when they can’t get the blessing of the family. And if they wish of their own free will to convert to Christianity or Islam or any other creed, why stop them?

      Don’t forget what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. No permission required for Burmese Buddhist men to marry women of different faith and convert them? This bill is thus not only blatantly racist and bigoted but sexist at the same time, a treble violation of human rights. Nothing can be more un-Buddhist than that.

      It’s the responsibility of the elders of any community to impart wisdom including marriage, and in Buddhism monks have no place whatsoever in this respect except to receive what is offered in the way of food and donations to mark the happy occasion.

      Whatever happened to “Loving kindness to all sentient beings without exception“?

  10. The Religious Conversion Bill is too egocentric!

    It’s a blatant humiliation for “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights” and “The Constitution of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar” that guarantee everyone the right to profess, convert to or abandon any religion of his or her choice.

    They should as well change Myanmar’s “Ministry of Religious Affairs” to “Ministry of Buddhist Affairs”.

    • Cheers! Ethnic minority groups better campaign for absolute independent from proper myanmar which is surrounded by mons, rakhines, chins, nagas, kachins, shans, kayaks and karens. The myanmar will not have even a small exit route to escape.

  11. You want to join asean a multiracial organization I do not believing in any religion as they are all man made for one reason or another Wake up we all need to be tolerant with each other I do not care what your religion is as long as it does not interfere with my life Grow up

  12. Parents better raise their children to value their own cultures, tradition and religious faiths. But even parents must not force their own children what to believe in the spiritual affairs. Religious belief is very personal and individual right. Many Buddhists do not know what they really believe. It is the failure of the parents and their monks. Instead of teaching them the buddhist faith, monks are collecting food from their followers without feeding them back spiritual food. Finally, they put it in the hands of monks killers for help. What a shame. Do they forget that y his Dame regime murdered their monks? Protection of their faith from killers of their holy monks? Not only regime, buddhism in myanmar seems a fake one too.

  13. The notion of changing legislation usually comes at a critical time when something needs to be done to avoid a catastrophe or a possible change of government. Any place where religions play roles in the society is a volatile place. Even if a government would be genuinely seeking change for the best of the whole country, there will be opposing views and possible violent reaction from one religious group or another. What is missing in governments is the incentive, the lack of understanding Life from an ecologic perspective, and the will to educate people. The greatest joke of an example of so called “democracy” is the voting system on anything from political parties to corporate boards where 51% have the yays and 49% have the nays. Somehow we dwell on systems that create winners and losers. In a sane society there should not be any losers.

  14. In one of the reactions to this article I read, ‘The Religious Conversion Bill is too egocentric!’ In other reactions people even gave us lectures on grooming children to ‘appropriate’ levels, while the importance of the religious conversion bill at the threat of religious extremism from both the sides involved in a marriage has been totally sidelined. Even the Muslim woman given to marriages have been found to fail to enjoy the privileges guaranteed and pledged at the time of a Muslim marriage in Burma. if the instances of such denial of rights in the books of Islam are properly studied the cat will of course come out of the bag. I, as a Muslim woman, again and again want to reiterate that, whatever Muslim writers on this page biasedly write against the proposal, in fact, the government should set up one committee who will check that every and each Muslim marriage has been performed as indicated in the holy Quran, and many of the evil circumstances of the Muslim marriage will come to a stop. And of course the Burmese Muslim woman will have clinched their rights.

  15. Is the snake really afraid of the frog that it may get swallowed? Being afraid of the thing which will never happen happens to the mentally insane persons. Instead of protecting the rights of the minority groups, the super majority Myanmars are trying to protect their own rights. The image is so ugly when 250 lbs man is jumping on 70 lbs little man.

  16. I think most of our Burmese people never mind choosing one religion or another, for the sake of marriage, or outside it. What irritates most to me is, why should anyone change their religion just because of marriage, endangering the peaceful atmosphere of the both sides, the bride and the groom?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available. Comments with external links in the body text will be deleted by moderators.