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Freedom of Expression, Religion and Belief: As Freedom of Expression Shrinks, Discrimination is on the Rise

By Burma Partnership and Smile Education & Development Foundation  •  September 28, 2015

In the lead-up to the 2015 elections in Burma, religious minorities, especially the Muslim population, have been consistently subjected to state sponsored discrimination and violent abuse, while simultaneously denied representation in the political sphere or in civil society. This ongoing state of oppression, which was catalyzed by the anti-Rohingya violence of 2012, is backed by a popular social view that uses extremely xenophobic and hateful rhetoric when speaking about the Rohingya and the greater Muslim population, only appears to be getting worse. At the same time, advocates for human rights and other members of civil society have continually reported on the shrinking space for dissenting viewpoints in Burmese society, especially on the issue of religious freedom and religious minorities, including for those who hold views defending the Rohingya from persecution. A devastating hypocrisy has thus emerged in which anti-Rohingya and anti-Muslim sentiment is allowed – at times, even encouraged by the Burma Government and throughout public opinion – while nonconformist views attempting to uphold even basic rights for religious minorities are actively shut down. The purpose of this briefing paper is therefore to explore this contradiction between the oppression of Rohingya and the Muslim population of Burma and the suppression of freedom of expression for human rights defenders (HRDs) working on the issue of religion and belief, in a hope to bring about positive change for the marginalized religious community.

In May 2015, the plight and oppression of the Rohingya became a topic on the radar of every major global media outlet. Sparked by a clampdown on human trafficking in Thailand and the discovery of mass graves at trafficking camps along the border, the Andaman Sea became a vast and watery graveyard for thousands of Rohingya refugees. Abandoned by their traffickers, these refugees spent up to two months at sea in cramped boats, faced starvation and dehydration, and endured violent abuse at the hands of their subjugators – only to be denied the right to seek asylum from neighboring nations. While ASEAN countries and the broader international community have since raced to take action, the refugee crisis continues to be a major regional issue. The scale of the exodus out of Burma – reportedly nearly 25,000 refugees in the first quarter of 2015 – undoubtedly means that Rohingya people still face desperate problems.

Download the full briefer in English here.

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This post is in: ASEAN, Children and Youth, Crimes Against Humanity, Displacement, Ethnic Nationalities, Human Rights, Human Trafficking, International Relations, Law, Military Regime, Political Prisoners, Women

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