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A leading Chin political party has said that Burma’s proposed Religious Conversion Bill, if enacted into law, would violate the 2008 Constitution, as well as fundamental human rights guaranteed under the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.
An official statement released by the Chin National Democratic Party (CNDP) on Sunday said the current bill directly violates Article 34* of the 2008 Constitution, which guarantees an individual right to religious freedom.
It also slammed the Inter-Marriage Law, one of the four proposed laws packaged under the Race and Religion Protection Bill, introduced by the Ministry of Religious Affairs, as unacceptable in a country characterised by its multi-faith and multi-ethnic society.
“It is simply unacceptable to limit the individual rights to choose a religion or to somehow restrict marriage between people from different religious backgrounds. What this law would do is to further restrict what little freedom there exists in this country,” says Salai Ceu Bik Thawng, CNDP leader.
Salai Ceu Bik Thawng was recently recognised by Washington DC-based National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a US Congressionally funded organization, as one of 30 individuals under 30 years of age around the world who have made meaningful contribution to the progress of democracy.
The Religious Conversion Bill, alongside the three other bills proposed under the Race and Religion Protection Bill package, has received fierce criticism from civil society organizations, human rights groups and religious groups from around the world since the draft bills were first publicised on state-run Burmese-language dailies. Led by the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO), the coalition said the measure will put religious minorities at further risks.
“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. We urge the Government to scrap the proposed Religious Conversion Law,” said a coalition of 81 groups from different corners of the world in their joint statement last week.
“In a country characterised by its ethnic and religious diversity, it is most appropriate for this country to adopt policies based on a secular state and to abolish the Ministry of Religious Affairs, as well as do away with constitutional provisions relating to religion, specifically Article 361, 362 and 363 respectively,’ reads the statement issued by the CNDP.
Meanwhile, Chin Christian churches in Hakha and Thantlang Townships have held prayer meetings in protest of the religious conversion bill.
*Article 34: Every citizen is equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess and practise religion subject to public order, morality or health and to the other provisions of this Constitution.
This article was originally published in Chinland Guardian on 22 June 2014.