KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 14 — Malaysia will become a nation
shrouded in fear and intolerance if the authorities
continue its harsh persecution of religious offenders,
human rights activists and an analyst have said.
Such a show of intolerance by the country’s leaders,
they warned, could drive an even deeper wedge between
Muslims and non-Muslims here and result in a nation more
divided than ever before.
Civil liberties lawyer Syahredzan Johan suggested a
possible future scenario where non-Muslims find
themselves thinking twice before inviting a Muslim into
their homes, fearing that even this would upset them.
“We might think it’s a bit extreme, but we never know.
The list of sensitive things is growing,” he toldThe
Malay Mail Online when
Citing the recent crackdown by religious authorities in
a string of cases, the lawyer said that harsh action
would only render interfaith efforts difficult as the
country’s many religious groups may stop daring to speak
“I think this is going to create a climate of fear in
which people would not want to say what they want to
say,” said Syahredzan.
Since last month, a string of religious incidents have
incurred the wrath of the authorities just ahead of the
country’s 56th Merdeka celebration on August 31.
Four Muslim girls were barred last month from contesting
the Miss Malaysia World 2013 beauty pageant as Islamic
authorities cited a 1996 fatwa (religious edict) against
Two Chinese bloggers — Alvin Tan and Vivian Lee — were
charged last month with sedition after they posted a
Berbuka Puasa” (breaking of fast) greeting
on their Facebook page that showed them eating “bak kut
teh”, and describing the soupy pork dish as “wangi,
enak, menyelerakan” (fragrant, delicious,
Maznah Yusof, a Muslim dog trainer, is also being
investigated for sedition after a video of her bathing
and walking her three dogs resurfaced recently on
The latest case is of a resort manager who was arrested
yesterday after several newspapers reported on a YouTube
video, which was uploaded last week, showing a surau
(Muslim prayer room) in the Johor resort being used by
Buddhist tourists for worship.
The police are investigating the Singaporean Muslim man,
who is also a permanent resident in Malaysia, under
Section 295 of the Penal Code for “injuring or defiling
a place of worship with intent to insult the religion of
“Will we come to a stage when even eateries have to
close if it’s Ramadan?” Syahredzan questioned.
“It’s not incredible to think it’ll come to that one
day. We are moving towards that. Everything must conform
to Muslim sensitivities, must respect Muslim
sensitivities, even if those sensitivities are
unreasonable,” he said.
Syahredzan said that such incidents would also put a
stop to inter-religious discourse involving Muslims.
“That’s the end of it. It will happen, but excluding the
Muslims, since apparently anything can offend us,” said
A reader called Patricia Anne Martinez also wrote on her
Facebook page last Monday about a TV warning calling for
“viewer discretion” on a documentary about Pope Francis
on the Astro History channel.
“Before the programme was aired, the following appeared
on the screen: “THIS PROGRAM PORTRAYS DEPICTION OF
RELIGIOUS FIGURES AND REPRESENTS VIEWS OTHER THAN
MUSLIMS’. VIEWER DISCRETION IS ADVISED,” said Martinez.
“The disclaimer — if it can be called that — was shown
FOUR TIMES throughout the programme,” added Martinez,
who is also Roman Catholic.
Syahredzan said that such a disclaimer indicated
“self-censorship because of state pressure”.
“More and more disclaimers are going to be put out.
Anything which is even remotely religious in nature,
it’s going to be shielded,” he said.
Dr Lim Teck Ghee, director of the think-tank Centre for
Policy Initiatives (CPI), said that non-Muslims are
alarmed at the “growing trend of religious
“An increasing intolerant and narrow-minded Islam
dependent on its interpretation and policing by
religious bigots that want to extend their sphere of
influence and are out of touch with modern trends is
perhaps the biggest threat to the character and
well-being of our country,” he told The
Malay Mail Online via
“It will only divide our communities; undermine
moderation and tolerance; and breed prejudice, hate and
suspicion,” added Lim.
Lim also noted that businesses would become more wary
about Muslim sensitivities, such as not having dogs
around at sports events or not organising lunches during
Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month.
“This will only pander more to the religious right found
in government agencies and political and social
organisations that are increasingly the arbiters of what
is correct social or religious behaviour and norms — not
only among Muslims but also among non-Muslims,” said the
Lim Ka Ea, chief of human rights group Malaysian Centre
for Constitutionalism and Human Rights (MCCHR), said the
recent religious incidents would not cow activists into
silence, but pointed out that “those who are less aware
or less empowered, they would definitely be threatened”.