Interfaith Leaders Call For ‘Legal Action’ Against Hate Speech

By Lawi Weng 29 April 2016

RANGOON — Over 100 community leaders from different religions nationwide participated in a three-day forum on “Interfaith Understanding and Peace Advocacy” in Rangoon this week to reduce interreligious tension in Burma.

One of the forum’s organizers, Aung Naing Win of the Metta Setwaing Organization, told The Irrawaddy today that in the meeting, held from April 26-28, community and religious leaders discussed how to better fight hate speech.

“We intend to work together with civil society groups in our own communities,” Aung Naing Win said. “We want to work with law enforcement to take action against those who use hate speech, and we want to empower our community through education to positively engage for peace.”

Burma has a new democratically elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD). Religious and community leaders at the forum expressed a readiness to work with this government in order to address interreligious conflict in the country.

“Our idea is that our religious leaders, civil society leaders, lawyers and the government will work together to create a law [on the issue],” Aung Naing Win added.

According to leaders who attended the forum, the cause of this type of conflict in Burma is the political manipulation of religion. To combat this, trust must be built so that peace at the community level cannot be easily destroyed, they said.

Burma has a sizeable Buddhist majority, and Animist, Christian, Hindu and Muslim minorities. In 2012, ethnoreligious conflict broke out in Arakan State and spread throughout the country as Buddhist nationalists targeted Muslims with violence.

Myint Thein, a Christian community leader who gave an opening speech at the interfaith forum, said that he believes interreligious conflict will continue as long as no legal action is taken against those who ignite tensions.

“It was easy to create problems around this issue. It was a sensitive issue,” he said, but also reminded participants that they had “stayed together for a long time, and we did not have problems in the past.”