Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Myanmar's president on Monday signed into law the last of four controversial bills championed by radical Buddhists but decried by rights groups as aimed at discriminating against the country's Muslim minority.
President Thein Sein signed the monogamy bill after it was passed by parliament on 21 August. The law punishes people who have more than one spouse or live with an unmarried partner other than the spouse.
The measures are part of four "Race and Religion Protection Laws" championed by the Committee for the Protection of Nationality and Religion, or Ma Ba Tha.
Under previously approved conversion rules, changing one’s religion requires the approval of the authorities.
Myanmar is set to hold historic elections of 8 November, the first poll with the participation of the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy, which had boycotted the polls in 2011.
However, this has been accompanied by the rise of rightwing Buddhist extremists who have singled out the country’s minority Muslims, especially the Rohingya in the western state of Rakhine in 2012.
The government denies that the new law is aimed at Muslims, estimated to make up about 5 per cent of the population. Although not widespread, polygamy is practiced by some Muslims.
Human rights groups slammed the new laws adopted by parliament and signed by the president because “They set out the potential for discrimination on religious grounds and pose the possibility for serious communal tension," said Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch. "Now that these laws are on the books, the concern is how they are implemented and enforced."
According to activist Robert San Aung, the text of the legislation do not provide clear indication of what authority would field complaints and process legal proceedings stemming from alleged violations of the laws.
For the lawyer, the laws “do not meet international standards” on human rights. For this reason, “Burmese monks who love peace and Burmese academics should work together in order to amend this law.”
Reacting to the campaign of religious hatred and intolerance against Muslims (Rohingya), a group of young people launched a campaign over the summer called ‘My friend’, taking to social networks (Facebook and Twitter) to promote tolerance among Myanmar citizens. Their aim is to boost national unity by fighting sectarian hatred and violence between Muslims and Buddhists.
Myanmar’s Catholic Church also spoke out several occasions against the marginalisation and neglect faced by the Muslim minority.