Stoking anti-Muslim sentiments in Burma, President Thein Sein has signed the Monogamy Bill to prohibit the practice of taking more than one wife, in a move that was widely condemned by rights groups as discriminatory against Muslims.
“They set out the potential for discrimination on religious grounds and pose the possibility for serious communal tension,” Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch, told Reuters on Tuesday, September 1.
“Now that these laws are on the books, the concern is how they are implemented and enforced.”
The anti-polygamy bill is the last of four anti-Muslim bills that were proposed by a Burmese extremist Buddhist group in the restive country recently.
Passed by the parliament on August 21, the law is a part of Race and Religion Protection championed by the Committee for the Protection of Nationality and Religion, or Ma Ba Tha.
The radical Buddhist group is led by 77-year-old Ashin Tilawkar Biwonsa, who formed the group as an offshoot from the “969” movement, a loose collection of monks linked to a wave of violence against the country’s Muslim minority in 2012 and 2013.
“There should be lawmakers in parliament who are reliable for the country,” Biwonsa, who is propelling the radical Buddhist group he founded, said in an interview cited by the New York Times.
“There might be some people, especially Muslims, who are working on weakening Buddhism, so we need strong people for our religion.”
Under the controversial bill, men are forbidden from taking more than one wife. Unmarried partners will be punished too.
Other laws that restrict religious conversion and interfaith marriage were signed by the president on August 26, according to Zaw Htay, a senior official at the president’s office.
The discriminatory laws, which came two months before the countryâ€™s first democratic national poll in more than two decades, were vehemently criticized by rights groups as â€œdangerousâ€.
The â€œ969â€ radical movement has led to widespread hate crimes and genocidal campaigns against the Muslim minority all across the Buddhist-dominated country, and has brutally rendered more than a million Muslim homeless.
In 2003, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison but was released in 2011 along with other political prisoners under a general amnesty.
Many believe that Buddhist Monk Ashin Wirathu along with other radicals are behind the mass exodus of Rohingya Muslims on overcrowded fishing boats.
The desperate exodus through sea has left hundreds dead and thousands stranded, resulting in one of the worldâ€™s worst immigration crisis in decades.
Described by the UN as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities, Rohingya Muslims are facing a catalogue of discrimination in their homeland.
They have been denied citizenship rights since an amendment to the citizenship laws in 1982 and are treated as illegal immigrants in their own home.
Between 2012 and 2013, Buddhists mob attacks have left hundreds of Rohingya Muslims killed and evacuated more than 140,000 from their homes.