Myanmar's draft religious laws 'illegal'

YANGON – A package of draft laws aimed at protecting religion in Buddhist-majority Myanmar has been condemned by a coalition of civil rights groups who say the legislation will incite hatred.

Local women's groups and religious organizations were among the 180 who signed a statement calling for the four bills to be dropped.

The proposed laws cover religious conversion, "population control," interreligious marriage and monogamy.

If they passed, those who want to convert to another religion would have to get permission from local authorities and non-Buddhist men would have to convert to Buddhism to marry women of that faith.

Critics have branded the laws sexist and say they discriminate against minority religions including Islam.

Anti-Muslim rioting has blighted the former pariah state's nascent reform process. Around 280 people, mostly Muslims, have been killed since sectarian clashes were sparked in mid-2012.

Extremist Buddhist monks have been accused of stoking tensions with sermons preaching that Buddhism is under threat from Islam.

In a statement released Wednesday, the rights groups said the laws would breach international human rights law and Myanmar's own constitution, which says all citizens have the "right to freely profess and practice religion."

The statement added: “Religion, family planning… and marriage are subjects integral to the private lives of people. The government cannot and should not control these areas of people’s lives through laws."

A chorus of international voices has called for the draft laws to be scrapped. Last year Human Rights Watch accused Myanmar's government of "stoking communal tensions" by considering them.

Copyright © 2015 Anadolu Agency