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Myanmar set to release data on religion in months

By Kyaw Ye Lynn
Anadolu Agency
June 3, 2016

Official says withheld religion data from 2014 census to be released by August, but no date set for that on ethnicity

YANGON, Myanmar -- After being withheld for over a year for political reasons, controversial census data on religion in Myanmar is set to be released by August, a government official told Anadolu Agency on Thursday.

For the first time in 30 years, the government had conducted a Population and Housing Census in 2014 -- only to postpone the release of ethnic and religious data until after the general election in November last year due to the sensitivity of the issues.

The permanent secretary of the Labor, Immigration and Population Ministry said Thursday that region-by-region data on religion will be published by August.

“The data would demonstrate number and percentage of each religion region by region as well as for the whole country,” Mya Kyaing told Anadolu Agency by phone. “We hope to publish it by August.”

Mya Kyaing added that preparation of the remaining data on ethnicity and religion had been finalized under the previous administration, which handed power over to a government led by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy in late March.

The ministry, however, has yet to set a date for releasing data on ethnicity as it is -- according to Mya Kyaing -- “more complicated than any other issues in the country”.

“We need to discuss with ethnic representatives for the ethnic categories before releasing the data,” he said.

Myanmar’s first census in 31 years was conducted between March 30 and April 10, 2014 and included 41 questions, the most controversial of which regards ethnicity -- providing a list of 135 answers to choose from.

The list, dating back to the 1982 Citizens’ Act that defined indigenous ethnic groups, is confusing, dividing the main ethnic groups into scores of sub-groups that sometimes indicate different clans, dialect groups or just different spellings of the same group.

However, more than one million Muslims in troubled western Rakhine state had been excluded from the tally, as the government did not officially recognize Rohingya term, instead asking them to choose the “other” option that enabled them to describe their ethnicity in their own words.

Muslims account for just around four percent of the country’s overall population, according to a census in 1983.

The actual figure, however, is expected to be much larger.

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