Nationalist Buddhist monks in Myanmar have collected 2 million signatures in support of a proposed law restricting interfaith marriage, a prominent anti-Islamic monk who is leading the campaign said Wednesday.
The monk, Wirathu, who heads Myanmar’s anti-Islamic “969” movement, said the signatures would be used to back a proposal to parliament aimed at curbing marriages between Buddhists and Muslims in the wake of sectarian violence in the country.
Under the proposed “national race protection law,” Buddhist women wishing to marry non-Buddhist men must first receive permission from their parents and local government officials. Non-Buddhist men wishing to marry Buddhist women must first convert to the faith.
Rights groups and women’s groups have spoken out against the proposal, which follows several bouts of anti-Muslim violence in the Buddhist-majority country that have killed at least 43 people this year. Clashes between Rohingya Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists that rocked western Myanmar’s Rakhine state last year left nearly 200 dead and 140,000 displaced.
Buddhist monks have been collecting the signatures since the proposal was first unveiled at a conference in Yangon on June 27.
The signatures will be sent to the head monk of the Ywama Monastery in Yangon, who will present them to parliament along with the draft law they are proposing, Wirathu said, after the nationwide signature campaign wrapped up Wednesday.
“As of today, I have received over 970,000 signatures from Upper Myanmar and Ashin Pyinnya Wara has received over 1.5 million from Lower Myanmar,” Wirathu told RFA’s Myanmar Service, referring to a fellow senior monk.
“So the total number of signatures we have collected so far is over 2 million.”
Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, head of the National League for Democracy, has blasted the bill as a violation of human rights and the country’s laws, saying it discriminates against women and runs contrary to Buddhist principles.
But the National Democratic Front, a political party that split from the NLD in 2010, has lent its support to the campaign and is planning to submit to parliament this month a draft law similar to the one proposed by the monks, the Democratic Voice of Burma reported earlier this month.
NDF leader Khin Maung Swe has said the law is aimed at protecting poor Buddhist women from non-Buddhists who “take advantage” of their impoverished circumstances, according to the report.
Wirathu, 46, from Mandalay’s Masoeyein Monastery, has previously said that the bill is tied to of concerns that Muslims are spreading their faith by marrying Buddhist women.
His “969” movement, the name of which refers to the various virtues of the Buddha, calls on its followers to boycott Muslim businesses and social circles.
Reported by Khin Khin Ei for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.