Myanmar MPs Debating Controversial Religion Laws

The upper house of parliament in Myanmar, also known as Burma, has begun debating two controversial interfaith bills that critics say could escalate conflict between religious groups in the country.

The bills, introduced by the government of President Thein Sein, would require people to get the permission of local authorities before converting to a new religion. The measures would also allow governments in ethnic minority areas to set their own population control policies, including rules banning more than one child per family.

Unity and Democracy Party of Kachin State parliament member Khat Htain Nan said now is a bad moment for these bills.

“I think the bills are not necessary at this time, especially during the democratic transition in which freedom and liberties have been allowed. I am concerned that it may generate more misunderstanding and difficulties," said he.

The government submitted four religion bills last year covering marriage, religious conversions, monogamy and population control. Activists and human rights groups have condemned the proposals, saying they would violate international standards on freedom of religion and women's rights.

But a group of monks, who have collected more than one million signatures backing the bills, say the measures are necessary to avoid religious violence and prevent the growth of the country's Muslim population.

Violence between Myanmar's Buddhist majority and Muslim minority has killed more than 240 people and forced about 140,000 out of their homes since 2012. Most of the dead and displaced are Rohingya Muslims in western Rakhine state. The government says it does not recognize the Rohingya as an ethnic minority, referring to them as Bengali instead.