80 groups worldwide urge scrapping of proposed religious conversion law

Written by Mizzima

More than 80 civil society groups throughout the world have called on the Myanmar government to scrap a proposed law on religious conversion, warning that if adopted it would violate fundamental human rights and could lead to further communal violence.

The call, in a statement issued on behalf of the 81 groups by the Chin Human Rights Organization on June 12, follows the publication of a draft religious conversion law in Myanmar’s state-run media on May 27.

The draft law outlines a rigorous process for those seeking to convert from one religion to another and provides for a prison term of up to two years for anyone applying for conversion “with the intent of insulting or destroying a religion”.

The statement said this raised the prospect of arbitrary arrest and detention for those wishing to convert from Theravada Buddhism, the faith of most Myanmar, to a minority religion or no religion at all.

The draft law also provides for a one-year jail term for anyone found to have used “undue influence or pressure” to compel someone to convert to another religion, and the statement said the broad wording of this provision may effectively outlaw proselytising in Myanmar.

“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 institutionalise discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities” in Myanmar, the statement said.

In a related development, the chairman of a US government agency said the draft law in religious conversions had “no place in the 21st century” and should be withdrawn, Reuters newsagency reported from Washington on June 11.

The chairman of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, Robert George, called the draft law “irreparably flawed” and said it would contravene Myanmar’s international commitments to protect freedom of religion or belief.

“Such a law has no place in the 21st century and we urge that it be withdrawn,” Mr George said.

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