ASIA/MYANMAR - In Parliament the new law against "hate speech": a step forward

Friday, 29 September 2017 religious freedom   freedom of conscience   violence   mass media   education   the internet   buddhism   islam   christianity   dialogue   peace   politics   human rights  

Yangon (Agenzia Fides) - The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture of Myanmar has submitted a draft law against "hate speech" to Parliament. The measure will be discussed and submitted to legislators for possible changes. As Fides learns, the text defines and recognizes the so-called "hate speech" and establishes some punishment for individuals or groups that promote it. A draft law was developed a year ago and discussed in various interreligious groups of the Burmese civil society, to try and stop those who spread or incite hatred and violence in public speeches and on the web, or promote defamation and calumny.
According to observers, one of the phenomena that created the need for such a measure is the presence of extremist Buddhist groups (such as the "Ma Ba Tha" Buddhist movement, led by monk Ashin Wirathu), who have raised interreligious tension in Burmese society.
Joseph Kung Za Hmung, lay Catholic of Yangon, founder of the NGO Catholic "Community Agency for Rural Development", who collaborates with Burma Caritas, and chairman of the "San Joseph" Catholic Educational Institute in Yangon, declares to Fides: The law is necessary for the presence of extremist Buddhist monks in the country who openly promote hatred and violence, rather than compassion and mercy. In a country like ours, of Buddhist majority, they may have those who follow them and cause harm to coexistence among religions. That is why the ministry is trying to stop them with legal means. The law would be a step forward, but it is also true that at times anti-terrorism measures to block indiscriminate violence against ethnic groups or religious minorities are needed".
Civil society leaders want to highlight the need to preserve the freedom of expression in the country, however: "The law could widen the power of government censorship, and in that case it would be profoundly wrong and would not help to prevent conflicts. In Myanmar a new approach to building respect, pluralism and diversity is necessary and it is urgent to open a space of dialogue in society: this really has the potential to prevent violence and discrimination", says a note from the NGO, "Article 19", which defends freedom of expression and information.
The law presented to Parliament was immediately linked to the current tragic situation of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Rakhine's Burmese state. In August, the Independent Commission nominated by Aung San Suu Kyi, led by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, published its final report on the situation in Rakhine State, presenting recommendations to improve relations between Muslim and Buddhist communities.
The Commission calls on the Government of Myanmar to actively combat "the language of hatred", even through a "robust legal framework". However, in addition to legislative action, it demands "to promote tolerance through civic education, cultural activities and awareness-raising, in order to eliminate misinformation about religion".
In the Burmese Catholic community, 2017 was proclaimed "Year of Peace" and the bishops have asked the faithful in all dioceses to pray and raise awareness for peace in the nation. In this framework, seminars and conferences on the subject of reconciliation and interreligious coexistence in the country are being promoted, contributing to the need to stop the spread of hatred and violence in Burmese society. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 29/9/2017)

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