World Bulletin / News Desk
The Labor, Immigration and Population Ministry’s permanent secretary said that religion data from the Population and Housing Census conducted in 2014 -- which had been withheld alongside ethnic data until after last year’s election -- would be released July 21.
“The religious population region by region as well as for the whole country would be released on July 21 with the instruction from the current government,” Mya Kyaing said by phone.
“However the release date for census data on ethnicity has yet to decided,” he added.
The 2014 census had been the first in 30 years in Myanmar, which inaugurated its first civilian government -- led by Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party -- in late March.
In June, Mya Kyaing said that the preparation of data on ethnicity had also been finalized but the ministry had yet to set a date for its release as it was “more complicated than any other issues in the country”.
A prominent Myanmar Muslim lawyer welcomed Tuesday the scheduled release of the religion data, insisting there was no reason to worry.
“Such exact data are very important for the country,” Ko Ni, an NLD legal adviser and patron of the Myanmar Muslim Lawyers Association.
He said Myanmar Muslims account for an estimated 4 percent of the country’s population.
Before the 2014 census, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) had warned Myanmar’s government of a potential risk surrounding the timing of the count and publication of its result.
The non-governmental organization had also called for the census process to focus only on key demographic questions and to drop sensitive questions on ethnicity, religion and citizenship status.
The ICG report said there were “strong indications” that the country’s 1983 census found the Muslim population to be around 10 percent, but purposefully underreported it at 4 percent to avoid popular unrest.
“The results of the current census could therefore be mistakenly interpreted as providing evidence for a three-fold increase in the Muslim population in the country over the last 30 years, a potentially dangerous call to arms for extremist movements,” it noted.
The census puts Myanmar's total population at 51.5 million.
Myanmar, however, did not allow around one million Muslims in troubled western Rakhine state to register as Rohingya for the census, but only as “Bengali” -- a term suggesting they are illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh.