Myanmar’s parliament just passed two bills, whose details are unknown, that reportedly aim to criminalize extramarital affairs and make it harder for people to change religion. Freedom, how does it work, am I right?
It doesn’t take much in the way of psychic abilities to figure that these laws are aimed squarely at Myanmar’s Muslim minority. You can’t very well practice polygamy in your own community if “extramarital affairs” (as defined by the non-Muslim authorities) are illegal, right? And making it harder to convert is just a no brainer when you’re worried about a growing religious minority. Myanmar is a majority Buddhist country, and over the past several years its politics have increasingly come under the sway of an extremist strain of Buddhism is firmly anti-Islam. The leaders of this movement whip up fears that Islam will overwhelm Buddhism in Myanmar as it did in other historically Buddhist areas like Afghanistan, Central Asia, and India/Pakistan.
While Myanmar has opened up to foreign businesses and visitors and allowed for increased press freedoms in recent years, it has continued to persecute the ethnic Rohingya through a series of discriminatory laws. Myanmar has limited the number of children the Rohingya can have to two and restricted the frequency of their pregnancies to one every three years. Hundreds of Rohingya have been killed in religion-fueled violence, and 140,000 have abandoned their homes to live in “apartheid-like” conditions. Over the course of the last year, tens of thousands of them have fled Myanmar on dangerous, often over-crowded boats.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has deemed the treatment of the Rohingya to constitute early warning signs of genocide.
Again the details are still unknown, but these laws will likely offer Burmese authorities more tools with which to target the Rohingya. But they also apply more broadly to Myanmar’s entire Muslim community and, indeed, to anyone living in Myanmar who might want to change religions someday (or have an affair, which, though sleazy and immoral, is really no business of the government’s). Even as the country looks forward to shaking off its repressive military government in elections scheduled for early November, laws like these will make sure that millions of Burmese citizens still can’t really exercise their basic rights to privacy and freedom of worship.
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