Thein Sein Orders Commission, Court to Draft ‘Protection of Religion’ Law

Myanmar, Burma, interfaith, marriage, ethnic, muslim, buddhist, 969,

Burma President Thein Sein delivers a speech in Naypyidaw in April 2011. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — Burma President Thein Sein has ordered a new commission and the country’s highest court to draft a proposed so-called “protection of race and religion” law, which could include a controversial measure to restrict interfaith marriage, according to lawmakers.

A petition signed by about 1.3 million people has called for the president to pass into law a version of a bill drafted by lawyers on behalf of leading monks in the nationalist 969 movement.

If enacted without amendment, the bill—which is thought to be targeted at Muslims in Burma—would require Buddhist women to get permission from their parents and local government officials before marrying a man from another faith. It also includes restrictions on converting to another religion, a limit to the number of children people can have, and measures to stop polygamy—which is already strictly illegal in Burma.

Late last month Thein Sein, without formally expressing support for the bill, forwarded it to Parliament for discussion, but Speaker Shwe Mann immediately sent it back, insisting that it was the executive branch’s responsibility to draft laws, then pass them to Parliament to debate.

On Friday, Shwe Mann announced in Parliament that he had received a new letter regarding the bill, according to Pe Than, a lawmaker from the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party.

“He [Thein Sein] informed Parliament that his government will form a commission to draft a [protection of race and religion] law,” he said.

However, in a move that baffled lawmakers, Thein Sein has reported decided that sections of the law covering certain issues would be drafted by the Union Supreme Court.

“His commission will take two issues: that one man is only able to have one wife and converting to another religion. The other two issues— interfaith marriage and restricting population—he will let the Union [Supreme] Court draft,” Pe Than said.

He said the move to have a branch of the judiciary draft a law was unprecedented, and that he did not understand why the president has chosen to do so.

Pe Than said that the law would address the fear among many Burmese Buddhists that the country’s dominant religion is under threat from Muslims. Tension between Buddhists and Muslims has run high since inter-communal violence broke out in Rakhine State in mid-2012, and later spread around the country.

“For me, I will not block this law as we all need to protect our race,” he said. “But one thing about protection of race is that while we need to protect our fence, we should not disturb other people’s fence.”

Mi Myint Than, lawmaker from the Mon Regional Democracy Party, confirmed the president’s decision.

“Usually, most draft laws come from the government administration. But on this issue, the president just sent it to the Parliament [originally],” she said, adding that it was more appropriate for a government ministry to draft the law.

“It’s a little strange. I can’t understand why,” she added.

Presidential spokesman Ye Htut last week commented on the earlier forwarding of the proposal to Parliament. On the sidelines of a meeting in Naypyidaw on March 1, Ye Htut told The Irrawaddy that the president’s wish in doing so was for Parliament to consider the issue, since so many people had expressed support for it, and not to make any political gain.

“According to our Constitution, no one from any political party can take political advantage from a religious issue,” he said.

6 Responses to Thein Sein Orders Commission, Court to Draft ‘Protection of Religion’ Law

  1. Thein Sein is going for the title Defender of the Faith like Henry VIII. The man is more populist than ASSK, a master of gesture politics. Than Shwe picked well.

    Since when do Burmese women need permission from their parents, in contrast to their blessing, even in customary law? They have always married freely and eloped for love.

    Extreme nationalism has a twin brother and he is called fascism.

  2. There are many ethnics who belong to other religions. If this is becoming a law, there will be a huge problem between Buddhists and non-Buddhists among us. If its is okay to the Buddhists, who care? Let their daughters and sons to choose. Discrimination must not be tolerated and another big issue will come up among us..

  3. Why are they(USDP) seriously talk about race & religion now?
    How about what was happened in last 25 years under their control?
    -What’s happening in Mandalay before 1988 & now ?How did those Chinese become Myanmar citizen ?
    -What’s happening in Rakhine state before 1988 & now ? How did those Bengali become Myanmar citizen?
    just face reality , We all know who is culprit , very obvious but they should realize ,this is very dangerous& serious politic game.

  4. Echoes of Hilter………..a very dark day for Burma.

  5. fox than shwe wants to kill many birds with one stone. One bird is Buddhist monks to cover his 2007 the cruel incidence of mass killing Buddhist monks, one is to downgrade DASSK’s fair opinions on religious issue, one is to discriminate Christian Kachin, Karen and Chin, one is to please local naive Burmese upon their jealousy to business successful local Muslim and one is to warn local Chinese ethnics to keep quiet in all activity particularly in Businesses. Finally, how to win the vote in USDP upon DASSK to make their bama military power indefinitely with the Buddhist mania U nu’s political strategy.
    Finally, all ethnics will demand separation from union of Burma to adhere to giant rich China with the same incidence of current Ukraine clash. Let see who will win the game with the help of Bama naive, low-born, uneducated Buddhist monks, led by psy wirathu. Fox than shwe learned from Sri Lanka how to kill all ethnics as well when Sri Lanka’s government easily and casually killed all Tamil rebels after cheating paper tiger UN.

  6. He/She who ignores history will be condemned into the rubbish pit.

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