Christians, minorities under threat in Sunni Malaysia, SUARAM-Aliran tell UN

(Geneva, 11 March 2014) SUARAM and Aliran have told the UN Human Rights Council that Christianity and other minority religions in Malaysia are increasingly under siege as right-wing Islamist groups threaten, with apparent impunity, the constitutional right of all Malaysians to freely practice their chosen faith.

The Malaysian rights-advocacy groups made the statement in a formal report to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, whose office has now circulated the document for attention at the coming HRC’s 25th session in Geneva, which begins (date).

The statement is substantiated by detailed examples of ongoing persecution and intolerance being faced by Malaysia’s religious minorities, and in particular the Christian community, which accounts for almost 10 per cent of the total population.

The SUARAM-Aliran report lists other instances of religious intolerance and extremism, such as the ban on practising the Shia brand of Islam in Sunni Malaysia, and media reports of how scores of indigenous Malaysians were tricked into converting to Islam in return for social welfare.

The statement also detailed how parents of non-Muslim indigenous children last year reported to police that their children were slapped for not reciting Islamic prayers, and how the country’s Deputy Education Minister later admitted in parliament that one parent had been offered a bribe to retract that report.

Citing the most recent religious controversy, the report to the HRC highlighted how Christian Malaysians were barred from using the word ‘Allah’ when referring to God, as a result of an October 2013 court decision widely derided by Muslim and Christian scholars worldwide.

SUARAM and Aliran pointed out that the UN Special Rapporteur had warned the Malaysian government the November following the court judgement that the legal precedent may have far-reaching implications for religious minorities.
Nevertheless, SUARAM and Aliran told the UN, Father Lawrence Andrew, the editor of Herald, a Catholic weekly, was investigated two months later under the Sedition Act, for saying the word ‘Allah’ would be used in services conducted in Malay, the national language.

SUARAM and Aliran also referred to how 400 protesters burned an effigy of Father Lawrence in front of a police station in Malaysia’s most populous state, Selangor.

The ‘Allah’ court decision now effectively applies to use of the term in Bibles and Christian publications printed in Malay, and public worship and other services conducted in that language.

The seizure of 321 Malay Bibles last January by Islamist organisation Jais was also reported in the joint SUARAM-Aliran statement, which said Jais “unlawfully” raided the premises of the Bible Society of Malaysia because no warrant had been served. The arrests of the BSM president and office manager, and their subsequent release, were also detailed in the report.

The joint statement said: “The raid is a blatant violation of freedom of religion, guaranteed under the Malaysian constitution and enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

SUARAM and Aliran’s report to the UN HRC also depicts how proselytising by Christians and other non-Muslims is prohibited, under Article 11(4) of the constitution, while followers of Islam may seek to convert outsiders to the faith. The UN was told how that discriminatory legislation was criticised by UN member states, including Canada, Italy, Austria and Poland, in the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review that brought the world body’s attention to bear on Malaysia’s religious travails.

The UN was also made aware that members of COMANGO, the Coalition of Malaysian NGOs, had been threatened and harassed by “state and non-state actors” following COMANGO’s formal report on religious extremism at the UN’s Universal Periodic Review last year.

COMANGO was declared illegal by Malaysia’s Home Minister last January, SUARAM and Aliran told the UN.

SUARAM and Aliran called on the UN HRC and Permanent Missions to urgently address these issues with the Malaysian Government. SUARAM and Aliran further requested the UN to call on Malaysia to invite the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief, Mr Heiner Bielefeldt, to visit Malaysia and conduct an independent inquiry, with the government’s co-operation.

Malaysia should also be required by the UN to promote policies and practices that ensure the rights of every religious group to exercise its faith free from legal, political, or economic restrictions.

SUARAM and Aliran concluded the UN should call on the government to arrest and charge parties that incite hatred and violence on religious grounds.

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