Yangon, Myanmar (IRIN) - Last month the Myanmar government published a religious conversion bill in the state-owned newspapers, requesting input from citizens. The publication follows a pro-bill campaign spearheaded by a group of Buddhist monks called the Organization for Protection of National Race and Religion in 2013.

Calling the draft law a breach of "every tenet of religious freedom", Human Rights Watch said it meant "any Burmese citizen who plans to change religion must seek a series of permissions from local representatives of government departments, including the Ministries of Religion, Education, Immigration and Population, and Women's Affairs, and wait 90 days for permission to be granted."

Heiner Bielefeldt, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, said: "State interferences into the right to change one's religion or belief are per se illegitimate and incompatible with international human rights standards."

The Ministry of Religious Affairs drafted the law as part of a series of four - related to religion, marriage, polygamy, and family planning- making up a legislative package "on the protection of race and religion." The latter three have not yet been divulged.

Buddhist monks have considerable political stature in Myanmar: They were major players both in the struggle to regain independence from British colonial rule and in democracy movements, including the "Saffron Revolution," months-long protests in 2007 against the then-military government.

At a 13 June press conference in Yangon, U Wirathu, an influential and well-known monk who has sparked fierce criticism for his anti-Muslim speeches,... MORE

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