OCTOBER 3, 2013 | By Shia Rights Watch
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.
SHIA RIGHTS WATCH
AMERICAN HUMANIST ASSOCIATION
AMERICANS FOR DEMOCRACY & HUMAN RIGHTS IN BAHRAIN
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)
Dr. Joel C. Hunter
Northland – A Church Distributed
Amjad Mahmood Khan
National Director of Public Affairs
Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA
International Christian Concern
Center for Religious Freedom
President & CEO
Faith J. H. McDonnell
Director, Religious Freedom Program
The Institute on Religion and Democracy
The Mitchell Firm
Rev. Sue Taylor
Church of Scientology National Affairs Office
CC: Dr. Suzan Johnson Cook, Ambassador-at-Large, International Religious Freedom