(CNN) — Myanmar’s government has begun unveiling drafts of proposed laws that critics say are motivated by religious hatred, and could take discrimination against the country’s marginalized Muslim minority to new heights.
The four bills are based on a petition presented by a group of nationalist Buddhist monks to President Thein Sein in July last year, calling for curbs on interfaith marriage and religious conversions, among other measures. According to the monks, it’s a matter of protecting race and religion and encouraging peace.
Tensions between the Buddhist majority and Muslim minority in Myanmar, also known as Burma, have been high since deadly violence erupted between the groups in 2012, as the country emerged from decades of authoritarian military rule. A faction of Buddhist nationalists has been criticized, accused of drumming up hostility.
The first draft bill — stemming from a request from a coalition of monks known as the Organization for the Protection of Race, Religion, and Belief — was published in state media Tuesday, with a call for public comment by June 20. The proposed law would require anyone seeking to change their religion to obtain permission from a number of different local authorities.
While the bill applied to all religions, human rights and civil society groups believe it is driven out of a concern to prevent the spread of Islam in the predominantly Buddhist country.