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Hardline monks welcome Myanmar's 'anti-Muslim' laws

By Joshua Carroll
September 14, 2015

Buddhist extremists celebrate laws said to target religious minorities

YANGON, Myanmar -- Hardline Buddhist monks declared victory Monday as they celebrated the introduction of laws widely viewed as targeting Myanmar’s religious minorities.

Hundreds of monks and supporters of Ma Ba Tha, or the Organization for the Protection of Race and Religion, gathered to celebrate the signing of four laws governing religious conversion, population control, interfaith marriage and monogamy.

Yanghee Lee, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, has warned the legislation would “legalize discrimination” against women and religious and ethnic minorities.

Rights groups have also condemned the Race and Religion Protection Laws, drafted by Ma Ba Tha affiliated lawyers, as sexist and discriminatory.

Crowds arrived in trucks and buses at the sacred Shwedagon Pagoda in the commercial hub of Yangon Monday before riding in convoy to a monastery where a sign declared the new legislation as “the most important law for all Myanmar”.

Lakana Thara, a monk clad in dark red robes, indicated the target of the new laws. “We are hearing about many cases where ladies are forced into other religions,” he told Anadolu Agency. “The Muslim people want to make the ladies change to their religion.”

Standing before a large picture of U Wirathu, a prominent Ma Ba Tha leader, the monk added that Myanmar was at risk of being turned into an Islamic country.

Sam Zarifi, regional director for the International Commission of Jurists, said: “Though the laws do not specifically mention Muslims, in practice they are likely to affect the Muslim population disproportionately.”

He told Anadolu Agency that long-persecuted Rohingya Muslims, many of whom are confined to internal displacement camps, were especially at risk from the often vaguely worded laws.

“In this day and age, laws are rarely drafted with explicit discriminatory language,” he said.

The Rohingya have borne the brunt of bouts of religious violence between Buddhists and Muslims that have claimed hundreds of lives since 2012.

Supporters of the laws gathered before a stage for songs and speeches at the Tipidaka Nikal monastery in east Yangon Monday.

“These laws are there to protect the rights of the people,” Thant Myint, a Ma Ba Tha member standing in the crowd, said. “One religion shouldn’t invade another.”

Ma Ba Tha has become increasingly influential in Myanmar politics in recent months. Critics of the opposition National League for Democracy led by Aung San Suu Kyi claim the party refused to propose any Muslim candidates for the general election in November in order to appease the group.

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