This is the essay we prepared for Humanist Global Charity & Peace.

Burma, the former name of a country with its present name as Myanmar, is a multi-cultural country with different ethnic groups and races. Among its 54million of total population, 88% of the populations are the followers of Buddhism which stands as majority religious group in the country. Christianity is considered as the second largest religion in Myanmar with 6.2% and is being challenged by Islam with its 4.3% of the population currently (World Population Review, 2020).

Myanmar has its own unique critique towards atheism and skepticism since its culture has its own root with Buddhism which is already an agnostic religion in some sense. In the other sense, Buddhism and its traditions have influenced on the society as a whole. For example, it’s important for a young person to respect elders, religious beliefs, traditions, and myths. In such kind of society, being an atheist or a sceptic makes you an outcast among conservatives and religious fundamentalists. First of all, the National Identification/Registration Card which is one of the most important documents to state your citizenship in Myanmar would demand you to publicly state your religion. According to the non-official rumors, it’s said that people with other mixed racial identity with minority religious group got discriminated during the registration process for the NRC. As an atheist born from a mixed family with the religious backgrounds of Buddhism and Islam, I personally can speak out for that. Currently, there is a thin line between Nationalism and Buddhism amongst its own society especially with the government officials and the military. On the other hand, there also is a potential threat of religious fundamentalism and extreme tribalism trying to challenge the national identity itself.

The first appearance of atheism comes to Myanmar along with the Communism since Karl Marx, one of the founding fathers of communism, is not only irreligious but also antireligious (WSJ, 2019). Even though communism and atheism have certain similarities, they are also unique and sometimes even contrary to each other as well. Anyway, in the old day, most of the religious fundamentalists and some Buddhist traditionalists accused the communists and socialists as atheists and non-religious people as communists and socialists too. Throughout the 1950s, the nationalist government headed by U Nu, the first prime minister of independent Myanmar and a fellow Theravada Buddhist fundamentalist, published a booklet called “Buddhism in Danger”, framing Communism as a deadly threat to faith and morals (Aljazeera, 2015).

Long before the current atheism, Myanmar has its own scholars and free thinkers who tried to challenge the religious fundamentalism. They tried to challenge the patriarchal system among the religions inside Myanmar such as Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. Some of them were Shin Ukkahta, Ashin Addiccavamsa,  Dhammavihari Shin Nyarna, and Saccavadi (Kyaw, 2020). Shin Ukkahta was an unorthodox Buddhist scholar whose beliefs and criticisms are really similar to Stephen Batchelor of our time. But as a result, he was sentenced into jail several times for his unorthodox views. Moreover, some of his books and his recordings were censored since todays. Those who tend to republish or re-distribute are also exposed to danger to be sentenced under the religious act of Blasphemy and others religious acts. Furthermore, Ashin Ardiccawunsa was also a well-known scholar who stood for gender equality a century ago which might fit in the timeline of third-wave feminism. In Myanmar Buddhism, women are no longer allowed to attain monkhood that is considered as precious and holy in Buddhist tradition. He stood up against such kind of patriarchy values in Myanmar’s society. As a result, Ashin Ardiccawunsa also was cancelled by the sexists, Theravada Buddhist fundamentalists and the state itself. Because of the pressure by the society and the state, he renounced his identity as a monk and stayed as an average person till the end of his days. In addition, Saccavadi also was a female nun who wanted to attain monkhood as a female. But patriarchy system of Theravada Buddhism didn’t allow her. She took her monkhood at Sri Lanka but as a result, she was sentenced to jail for several years (Kyaw, 2020).

Numbers of atheists, agnostics and sceptics increase per year significantly. As a Facebook group admin who is moderating more than two atheist groups in Myanmar, it’s significant that more and more people are interested with the atheism.

The earliest international record atheism in Myanmar is “Kyaw Moe Khine” whose nickname is Bart. He is an ex-Muslim who exposed the discrimination that most of the Myanmar Muslims face inside a Theravada Buddhism dominant country (International, 2015). The New Atheism movement in Western world has huge influence on Myanmar outcast atheists and sceptics from different regions. Additionally, the New Atheism movement also inspire young atheists and secularists to be organized. Such aspirations lead to the formation of “Burmese Atheists Association”. The first media appearance of Myanmar atheists on international media were published on Aljazeera. Some of them are currently our valuable members:

  • Thiha who is a self-styled anarchist and punk rocker, was born to a Muslim father and Buddhist mother. He used to study to become an imam and later briefly converted to Christianity before abandoning his faith completely which is an insightful decision resulted by his practice of Vipassana meditation (Aljazeera, 2015). He is now a member at Burmese Atheists Associations.
  • Theo who is a founding member of Burmese Atheists said to Aljazeera that coming out as an atheist is as hard as coming out as gay. He saw a kid who got kicked out of his home simply because he told his family that he was an atheist in his early twenties (Aljazeera, 2015).

Even though our “Burmese Atheists Association” only hosts controversial posts criticizing faith, provoking the outrage of some devout religious fundamentalists who often react with offensive comments. But in terms of legal practice, even such kind of controversial memes and cartoons, atheists in the group and administrators are exposed to high risks of Blasphemy Laws. Some clauses covering “offences against religion” are the following:

Section 295 (a) “deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings” or “insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs” will be imprisoned up to two years, or with fine, or both.
Section 298 Uttering words, etc.; with deliberate intent to wound religious feelings. Individuals can be punished with “imprisonment of either description for a term which may be extend [sic] to one year, or with fine, or with both.”
Section 296 it is punishable by disrupting gatherings participating in divine worship or ceremonies;
Section 297 criminalization of trespassing on sites of worship or burial places.

There were several cases regarding Blasphemy Laws in Myanmar. In June 2020, Kyaw Win Thant was sentenced to 21 months in jail for offending Buddhist monks. He was fined by the court for breaching Section 295(a) of the Penal Code. Thant criticised Buddhist monks on Facebook in reaction to the opposition of some conservative monks regarding the sex education at school proposal by the current government (End Blasphemy Laws, 2020). In April 2020, under Section 295 (a) of the Penal Code, street artists Zayar Hnaung, Ja Sai and Naw Htun Aung were charged with ‘blasphemy’ for a mural designed to increase awareness of the Covid-19 pandemic. The artwork was said to be blasphemous because the artists depicted the Grim Reaper wearing a dress that was the same color as the Buddhist monks wearing robes in Myanmar (End Blasphemy Laws, 2020). In October 2014, Htin Lin Oo, the former National League for Democracy information director, was sentenced to two and a half years in prison with hard labor for criticizing religion. He said that Buddhism was misused to discriminate against other faiths (End Blasphemy Laws, 2020). As a result, reasons and rational thoughts are being suppressed. It’s getting more and more complicated and dangerous even to discuss about sexism, pedophilia, tribalism, extremism, terrorism, and genocidal history of religions since such a discussion might potentially trigger some audience that might lead to some critical legal consequences for the speakers.

Currently, it’s getting harder for Burmese Atheists Association and other atheists as well as sceptic individuals in Myanmar. Back in the old days, atheists were only outcasted or cancelled for criticizing religions. At least, they were safe as long as they tried to fit into the society and respect the blasphemy laws. But now, it’s getting less safe for atheists and sceptics even on the social media. Myanmar atheists are censored by the society and the blasphemy laws in their real life whereas their opinions and their freedom of expressions are challenged by the censorship of tech giants as well. Once, Facebook banned racial slurs regardless of its contents and context which had large number of innocent users being suffer from the false positive flag of Facebook. (THE IRRAWADDY, 2017). Banning or removal of every post containing a particular word has no benefit for the society at all and it can be concluded that Facebook had failed to understand a language or Facebook had underestimated a language. For example, the keyword Facebook used to ban at such time was “Kalar”. But in Burmese language, “Kalarhting” means chair and Facebook even banned that chair word for containing “Kalar” keyword. Even an ex-Muslim myself, who was born to a Muslim father and Buddhist mother, got banned for describing myself as “Kalar”. Apparently, I didn’t recognise that keyword as “racist”, but Facebook did. So, my Facebook account got restricted for a month at such time for describing myself as “Kalar” which basically is a common racial identification word for the people and the descendants from India ethnic group, Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs to general public.

In conclusion, the population of atheism in Myanmar is projected to be increased because of the side effects of religious extremism, religious fundamentalism, patriarchy, religious terrorism and so on.  Since most of Myanmar atheists are also interested in feminism, LGBT rights and human rights, it’s undeniable that atheists in Myanmar would be beneficial for the potential progressive political movements in Myanmar. Nevertheless, it would still be a long journey for atheists and sceptics to have full human-rights which is inclusive of blasphemy rights in Myanmar. Likewise, it will be really difficult for Myanmar to become a country with least censorship, cancel culture, discriminations, hatred and bigotry towards atheism, secularism, feminism, LGBT communities and uncomfortable different opinions of any kind.


Aljazeera. (2015, Dec 30). Changing Myanmar’s hidden atheists. Retrieved from Aljazeera:

End Blasphemy Laws. (2020, Sep 29). Myanmar. Retrieved from End Blasphemy Laws:

International, P. R. (2015, Dec 29). A Burmese atheist who takes inspiration from George Carlin and Bart Simpson. Retrieved from Public Radio International:

Kyaw, H. H. (2020, May 02). Blasphemy and Human Rights Violations in Myanmar??? Retrieved from Burmese Atheists:

THE IRRAWADDY. (2017, May 31). Facebook Ban of Racial Slur Sparks Debate in Burma. Retrieved from THE IRRAWADDY:

World Population Review. (2020, July). Myanmar Population 2020 (Live). Retrieved from World Population Review:

WSJ. (2019, Aug 29). Communism and Religion Can’t Coexist. Retrieved from WSJ: