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Myanmar moves to curb hate speech with new bill

By Kyaw Ye Lynn
September 10, 2016

New bill designed to clamp down on production, spread of hate speech could see anti-Islam nationalist groups banned

YANGON, Myanmar -- A new bill designed to clamp down on the production and spread of hate speech is to be submitted to Myanmar's parliament in coming months, officials said Saturday.

The law -- which could see anti-Muslim nationalist groups such as the Buddhist monk-led Committee to Protect Race and Religion (Ma Ba Tha) banned -- has been drafted by the ministry of religious affairs and culture in an effort to curb ethnic and religious tensions.

On Saturday, Aung San Win, the director general at the ministry's information department, told Anadolu Agency by phone that six different religious groups had helped out with the draft, and it had already been reviewed by the attorney general’s office.

He said that the bill -- which would see anyone producing or spreading hate speech spend three years in jail -- would be submitted soon, "but the exact date is yet to be decided”.

“I am sure that it will be [submitted] this year,” he added.

Ko Ni, the legal advisor for Aung San Suu Kyi's ruling National League for Democracy (NLD), said that the law was urgently needed.

Religious intolerance has been on the rise in the country since communal violence broke out between Muslims and Buddhists in western Rakhine State in 2012, in which 100 people died and more than 140,000 were displaced, most of them Muslims.

“We need a law to take straightforward action on hate speech and discrimination,” Ko Ni told Anadolu Agency on Saturday, underlining that authorities were presently having to use articles in the penal code that forbid religious defamation as the country had no specific law.

“Such ways are not effective, and also complicated,” he stated.

Anti-Muslim tirades by the nationalist Ma Ba Tha have been blamed for a surge in sectarian hatred across the country, which occasionally has turned into religious violence.

In July, Religious Affairs and Culture Minister Thura Aung Ko warned Ma Ba Tha’s firebrand monk Wirathu – renowned for anti-Muslim hate speech -- that the party may have no future after he referred to State Counselor Suu Kyi as a "dictator".

“Ma Ba Tha's future may be uncertain if they continue spreading hate speech to create conflicts between religions, and among races," he said.

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