08/24/2015, 00.00
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Myanmar passes polygamy and conversion laws that please Buddhist extremists

The country’s Parliament approves controversial laws that could be used against minorities and marginalised groups. Untried, the new laws make it harder on converts and on people who have extra-marital affairs. For Human Rights Watch official, the new laws will further poison relations among religions.

Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Myanmar’s parliament passed controversial legislation on polygamy and conversion championed by hard-line Buddhist nationalists, to use against already marginalised minority groups.

Human rights activists and opposition movements are sounding the alarm, pointing out that the government is jeopardising citizens’ rights and freedoms in order to please the country’s Buddhist extremists.

Whilst there were scant details on the bills, the polygamy law reportedly includes a provision to criminalise extra-marital affairs, while the conversion law will apparently make it harder for people to change religion.

The proposed legislation is divided in four bills that activists say are thinly veiled attempts to curb the freedoms of minority religions — particularly Muslims in the Buddhist-majority country.

According to campaigners, the two that were approved recently curb mixed marriages and family size and are an affront to women's rights and religious freedoms.

Likewise, a Catholic senator, Je Yaw Wu, criticised the new legislation because it harms citizens’ rights.

David Mathieson of watchdog Human Rights Watch agrees. The new legislation "champions an ultra-nationalist agenda" that could fuel religious instability. "This could be used in the lead up and after the election to crack down on religious minorities," he said.

A group of radical Buddhist monks is behind the controversial laws. Over the years, they have gained in power, alleging that Burmese Buddhism and “race” are threatened.

Their influence has grown together with anti-Muslim and anti-Rohingya sentiment, as a result of sectarian tensions in the western state of Rakhine.

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