Over 80 organizations from civil society worldwide have called on the Government of Myanmar to scrap the proposed legislation that would unlawfully restrict the right to freely choose a religion. If adopted, this law would violate fundamental human rights and could lead to further violence against Muslims and other religious minorities in the country.
The draft “Religious Conversion Law” sets out a process for applying for official permission to convert from one religion to another. It grants Township-level officials from various government departments sweeping powers to determine whether an applicant has exercised free will in choosing to change religion. Those found to be applying for conversion “with the intent of insulting or destroying a religion” could be punished by up to two years’ imprisonment. Compelling an individual to convert to another religion through “undue influence or pressure” could carry a one-year jail penalty. Under instruction from President Thein Sein and the Speaker of the Lower House of Parliament Shwe Mann, the Ministry of Religious Affairs (MoRA) drafted the law based on proposals by a Buddhist organization called the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion.
The right to freedom of religion or belief is widely recognized as having customary international law status. Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights explicitly states that the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion includes the freedom to change his or her religion or beliefs.