Letter to Secretary John Kerry on Violations of Religious Freedom in Malaysia

In Malaysia religious minorities continue to see their freedom of religion and expression restricted.  Malaysian authorities often ban publications, close or destroy worship centers and arrest members of the Shia community and other mystical sects.

In a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, Shia Rights Watch details the worst excesses of governmental discrimination toward religious minorities in Malaysia.

SRW is joined by a diverse group of human rights organizations, advocacy groups, and religious leaders concerned about the ongoing and escalating violations of the freedoms of religion, expression, and assembly in Malyasia.

More than 20 Shia Muslims were arrested in August and September of 2013. Among the arrested is Dr Nur Azah mother of a toddler who was arrested from her clinic in Kamunting for having Shia prayer books at her office. Mohd Ridzuan bin Yusof, Abdul Manaf bin Abdul Hamid, Idris Bin Mat Desa, Abu Bakar bin Ahmad, Nur Azah binti Abdul Halim and Nazahatulniza binti Abdullah are six out of 16 others arrested after the federal state of Kedah banned Shia publications.  Police also raided and closed a Shia worship and community center in Gombak, Selangor, damaging the centers and seizing many books and personal belongings.

Hindu and Christian are among the minorities who face discrimination as the Malaysian government demolishes their churches and temples.

Religious minorities face discrimination and restrictions on the universal freedoms of religion and expression.  These violations undermine Malaysia’s reputation for religious tolerance and threaten the ethnic and religious consensus on which Malaysia is built, said Mustafa Akhwand, Shia Rights Watch director.  We urge Secretary of State John Kerry and his Administration to raise these issues with the Malaysian government.

Letter to Secretary John Kerry on

Violations of Religious Freedom in Malaysia

October 2, 2013

The Honorable John Kerry
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20520

Dear Mr. Secretary of State,

   We are writing to you today to bring to your attention serious violations of religious freedom in Malaysia. Malaysia’s fragile political consensus is threatened by the government’s active promotion of only one form of Sunni Islam. Religious minorities face both societal abuse, limits on religious expression, discrimination, and the demolition of unregistered places of worship.

We urge you to highlight the importance of freedom of religion and expression during your visit. As President Obama said so eloquently in his 2009 speech in Cairo, as a way to move forward, we must “say openly the things we hold in our hearts, and that too often are said only behind closed doors,” because we all share the “common principle…of justice and progress, tolerance and dignity of all beings.” Unfortunately, Malaysian politics is often not tolerant of dissenting views.

Malaysia presents itself as a model, moderate Muslim-majority country. Too often however, religion is used as a political wedge issue for politicians seeking support among the majority Malay and Sunni Muslim population, leaving many ethnic and religious minorities marginalized and with reasonable fears about their lack of civil liberties and legal recourse. Non-Muslims and dissenting Muslims are often disallowed from voicing their concerns, face death threats, detentions, or attacks by vandals. The government maintains a secret list of banned religious organizations. The fears of religious minorities and the expansion of Muslim/non-Muslim political competition in Malaysia are not “soft” side issues but may have critical policy and strategic impacts that could limit U.S. interests in Southeast Asia.

Shia Muslim practice is restricted, their mosques raided by police, their publications banned and confiscated, and recently 21 Shia practitioners were arrested in August and September 2013 because their faith is considered “deviant” from the “true Islam.” Hindus and Christians have faced explicit discrimination in cases adjudicated by the Sharia courts involving issues such a marriage and divorce, parental rights, conversions, and funeral rites. In addition, the Malaysian government has failed to grant equal rights to non-Muslim places of worship or to fully protect them from demolition or vandalism.

Ten thousand Hindu temples/shrines have been demolished or desecrated (includes private shrines located on plantation estates). In addition, following a High Court decision ruling that the government’s ban on the use of “Allah‟ in non-Muslim publications infringed upon constitutional rights, including freedom of expression and freedom to practice one’s religion, several non-Muslim places of worship were attacked, including at least 10 Christian churches and a Sikh gurudwara.

We urge you, as Secretary of State, to highlight the universal notions of freedom of religion and freedom of expression to the Malaysian government and seek promises from the Malaysian government to promote tolerance and respect for all religious minorities, end the ban on religious publications and other restrictions on religious expression, recognize all religions and give them freedom to practice their peaceful rituals, and release anyone being held for their religious activities or religious freedom advocacy.

Sincerely,

ORGANIZATIONS

SHIA RIGHTS WATCH

AMERICAN HUMANIST ASSOCIATION

AMERICANS FOR DEMOCRACY & HUMAN RIGHTS IN BAHRAIN

FREEMUSLIM ASSOCIATION

HINDU AMERICAN FOUNDATION

HUMAN RIGHTS LAW FOUNDATION

HUMAN RIGHTS WITHOUT FRONTIERS INTERNATIONAL (BRUSSELS)

IMAM SHIRAZI FOUNDATION

INTERNATIONAL CHRISTIAN CONCERN

INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

RUSSIAN ORTHODOX AUTONOMOUS CHURCH OF AMERICA

UNION OF COUNCILS FOR JEWS IN THE FORMER SOVIET UNION (UCSJ)

VENN INSTITUTE

Individuals

Dr. Joel C. Hunter
Senior Pastor
Northland – A Church Distributed

Amjad Mahmood Khan
National Director of Public Affairs
Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA

Jeff King
President
International Christian Concern

Paul Marshall
Center for Religious Freedom
Hudson Institute

Brent McBurney
President & CEO
Advocates International

Faith J. H. McDonnell
Director, Religious Freedom Program
The Institute on Religion and Democracy

Greg Mitchell
President
The Mitchell Firm

Rev. Sue Taylor
Church of Scientology National Affairs Office

CC: Dr. Suzan Johnson Cook, Ambassador-at-Large, International Religious Freedom

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