Controversial religion bills submitted to parliament

Four controversial "protection of religion" bills were forwarded to parliament at the end of November, the president’s office announced last week.

The decision to draft laws that would restrict religious conversion and inter-faith marriage, and enforce monogamy and population control measures, has been strongly criticised by local and international human rights groups.

The draft text of the religious conversion bill, which was publicised in May, was particularly criticised by rights groups because it would require people who want to change their faith to get approval from a specially-created local authority.

The bills are based on drafts written by the Committee for the Protection of Nationality and Religion, a monk-led organisation better known as Ma Ba Tha. They are likely to be considered during the next session of parliament, which will begin in early January.

While the text of the draft interfaith marriage bill has not yet been released, an earlier version proposed a ban on marriage between Buddhist women and men of other faiths.

Ma Ba Tha members say an existing marriage law introduced in 1954 is not strong and the new draft law would protect women from being forced to convert to their husband’s religion.

The President’s Office said the full text of the draft bills would be published in state newspapers soon to get public feedback.

The bills were sent to the government in 2013 and in February President U Thein Sein submitted them to parliament. However, speaker Thura U Shwe Mann said they were not in the right format to be considered by MPs and sent them back to the government to be rewritten.

In March, President U Thein Sein set up a 12-member commission headed by Deputy Attorney General U Tun Tun Oo, to draft two of the laws, while two others were sent directly to government ministries.