On Thursday Parliamentary Speaker Shwe Mann delegated draft legislation for the protection of race and religion in Burma, after monastic lobbyists petitioned for the laws. The Organisation for the Protection of National Race and Religion (OPNRR), headed by monk Ashin Tilawka Biwuntha, drafted four bills: the Faith Conversion Bill; the Marriage Bill; the Monogamy Bill; and the Population Control Bill. The group urged that the drafts be submitted to Parliament, claiming that protection of Burma’s race and religion is urgently needed to avoid such conflict as has ravaged parts of the country since 2012.
The proposed laws restrict interfaith marriage and could impose childbirth limitations.
DVB staff reporter Shwe Aung spoke with writer and former political prisoner Htet Myat about the proposed legislation, which he views as unnecessary and counter-productive to the nation’s efforts towards peace and social stability.
SA: Do you think now is an appropriate time to create racial and religious protection laws?
HM: The aim of the race protection laws was to address problems in Arakan State. I cannot accept these bills. I would like to say, frankly, that these bills are unnecessary. What we are seeing today is reminiscent of the 1960’s; They are trying to make Buddhism the national religion.
But these laws will prohibit the rights of women in Burma. When I read the meeting minutes of the monks who proposed the bills, I realised that not only does it prohibit women’s rights but also abuses the right to freedom of religion. I think at this moment, we don’t need this in our country. There is no such threat against Buddhism. I believe that the bills should not be approved at this time. I can’t accept this legislation.
SA: The leading monk from the OPNRR, which put the legislation forward, said that the new laws are necessary to stop racial and religious violence in Burma. Do you have any comment on this?
HM: The way he worded it, it seems like a threat. It meant that if the bills are not approved, there will be more conflict. If we consider the Meikhtila incident, it is obvious that people are behind it… some authorities didn’t do enough to control the situation. The conflict began in Arakan State and broadened to reach other parts of the country. Also in Pegu division, incidents happened in one town after another. There are people creating these problems. These problems were created by some people behind it.
People of different faiths have been living together for a long time without any problems. If there is no agitation from behind, there is no problem. Those who are creating problems should take responsibility. Relevant authorities should take legal action against them. If there are people creating conflicts, they should be held to account.
SA: The draft legislation was sent to the President last July. Why is it just reaching Parliament now?
HM: I think there are movements to launch propaganda against Aung San Suu Kyi, to prevent her from becoming President in the 2015 elections. The monks who proposed these bills are also organising against the amendment of Article 59 (f) [which disqualifies Suu Kyi for presidency]. It is co-incident with the submission of these bills. The election is only one year away. I am very suspicious about these moves.