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Spotlight on Malaysia’s Religious Freedom Restrictions

Photo: Engin Akyurt

(Juicy Ecumenism) by Scott Morgan  Several nations are known, even outside the small company of human rights advocates, for violating the rights of its people to religious freedom and for persecuting believers. But there are other nations, also oppressing people of faith, which are not as well known. Malaysia is one of the latter.

China and Nigeria have achieved wide notoriety for their actions suppressing freedom of religion or belief, due in large part to work by human rights and religious freedom activists. But not much has been in the news about Malaysia.

Malaysia is one of those countries that doesn’t generate the interest of most media outlets. There are too many other crisis spots or issues. It is a matter of great interest to Malaysians whose freedom of religion is being violated, though. And therefore it should be of interest to all who care about Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB). (This is now the chic term, by the way, used by the UN and other cognoscenti: Freedom of Religion or Belief aka FoRB. You’re not supposed to just say “religious freedom” anymore!)

The recent release of reports from three different entities regarding FoRB in Malaysia. Even though Malaysia appears to have good constitutional provision for religious freedom, these reports have provided new documentation of Malaysia’s unwillingness to implement those constitutional freedoms and documents oppressive actions against Christians and others.

First there was the release of a briefing paper by the International Committee of Jurists (ICJ) in March of last year, 2019. The paper, “Challenges to Freedom of Religion or Belief in Malaysia” was sponsored by the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.

Part of a follow up to the visit by the UN Special Rapporteur on Cultural Rights to Malaysia in September 2017, the ICJ report focused on six key issues. These issues concern the implementation in practice of Malaysia’s constitutional provisions, federal laws, and Islamic laws in the context of freedom of religion or belief:

  • discrimination against religious minorities
  • limitations on the rights of children relating to personal matters governed by Islamic law
  • discrimination against persons who wish to change or adopt a new religion
  • criminalization and prosecution of proselytism among Muslims
  • prohibitions on the use of the word ‘Allah’ by non-Muslims
  • relationship with freedom of expression and the crime of sedition

The second document, is the US State Department’s annual report on International Religious Freedom (IRF), issued in June 2020. The IRF report covers events that took place in Malaysia in 2019. Once again we have a report that doesn’t paint a rosy picture regarding the situation on the ground. Some of the documented concerns of the US Government include the universal conversion of children by one parent without the permission of the other, the disappearance of three Christians along with a Muslim activist, and the lack of respect for the rights of religious minorities.

Noted in the State Department report is the conflict between Malaysia’s civil law and Sharia (Islamic law). The IRF report says, “The government maintains a parallel legal system, with certain civil matters for Muslims covered by sharia. The relationship between sharia and civil law remains unresolved in the legal system.” Elsewhere, it adds, “When civil and sharia jurisdictions intersect, civil courts continue largely to give deference to sharia courts, creating situations where sharia judgements affect non-Muslims.”

Also during the month of June, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, (USCIRF) issued a press release urging the Malaysian authorities along with those of Thailand to protect Rohingya refugees who are currently stranded at sea after fleeing from persecution in Burma. This minority Muslim community has been seeking refuge in Bangladesh for some time, but the country was overwhelmed by the sheer number of people that were driven from their homes. Therefore, the Rohingya turned their eyes towards Thailand and Malaysia.

USCIRF Commissioner, Johnnie Moore, was quoted in the release stating, “The Rohingya people have faced unimaginable horrors in their home country of Burma.”  And Commission Chair, Gayle Manchin said, “Thai and Malaysian authorities must recognize their obligations under international law to refugees fleeing ethnic and religious violence.” She continued, “USCIRF urges them to grant refuge to Rohingya Muslims fleeing ethnic cleansing in Burma. If not, hundreds could perish at sea.”

This is not the only action that USCIRF has taken regarding Malaysia. In its annual report for 2020 the Commission recommends that Malaysia be designated as a Country of Particular Concern by the State Department for the same problems expressed in the reports of the ICJ and State’s own IRF report. It has also made the recommendation that the country be placed on the Special Watch List for its treatment of Religious Minorities.

Although this is a brief snapshot into the issue of FoRB in Malaysia, it is good to see that in spite of the lack of press notoriety on the nation’s violations of religious freedom, those who are serious defenders of FoRB, like the International Committee of Jurists, the US State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, and the US Commission on International Religious Freedom are taking steps to highlight the problems and help religious minorities in Malaysia.

Minorities in Turkey on edge amid threats, attacks

(Al-Monitor) Vulnerable groups have faced intimidation or worse in recent weeks in what both the government and the opposition warn are efforts to stoke conflict, though they disagree on who’s to blame.

ISTANBUL — Ethnic and religious minorities in Turkey are on edge after a series of threats and attacks, with both government officials and their critics warning society’s most vulnerable are being targeted to foment strife.

Kurds, Christians and others have all faced intimidation or outright violence in recent weeks in what appear to be mostly unrelated incidents. Yet they coincide with growing economic uncertainty and political tensions wrought in part by the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 4,500 people in Turkey and hammered the economy. READ MORE

Reported by Ayla Jean Yackley

Christians Abducted, Attacked in Bangladesh Refugee Camp

View of the sprawling Kutupalong refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo: Russell Watkins/Department for International Development

Human Rights Watch) Taher, a Rohingya Christian pastor, and his 14-year-old daughter were abducted from their shelter in a refugee camp in Bangladesh on the morning of January 27. The previous night scores of men attacked 22 Christian families living in Kutupalong Camp 2 in Cox’s Bazaar. The attackers beat up residents, vandalized homes, and looted personal property in the sprawling Rohingya refugee camp. At least 12 Rohingya Christian refugees were injured and hospitalized following the attack. A makeshift Christian church and school were also smashed. After the attack the families relocated to a United Nations transit center and filed a police case against 59 alleged assailants.

The Benar News Agency and Radio Free Asia have reported that camp residents believe that the attackers are linked to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), an ethnic Rohingya armed group. An ARSA representative denied and condemned the attacks on Christians, saying the assailants were harming the group’s fight for Rohingya rights.

Taher’s wife, Roshida, fears that her husband has been killed and her daughter abducted. She told Human Rights Watch that, “No one can give me any clear information, but my relatives told me that my daughter has been forced to convert to Islam and marry.”

Approximately 1,500 Rohingya Christians are among the more than 700,000 predominantly Muslim Rohingya forced to flee to Bangladesh as the result of the Myanmar military’s 2017 campaign of ethnic cleansing.

Victims say the Bangladesh authorities, who described the attack as an “ordinary law and order incident” and not an attack aimed at Christians, are not doing enough to protect them or to find Taher and his daughter. Camp officials “try to avoid our queries,” said one man. Another said a police officer in Cox’s Bazar told him that if the victims wanted to be safe they should “go to the moon.”

Rohingya Christians have previously reported facing threats and violence in the camps. The UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, has expressed her concern for Rohingya Christian refugees who are facing “hostility and violence.” The Bangladesh authorities should urgently locate Taher and his daughter and bring those responsible to justice. The government should also act immediately to protect all vulnerable groups in the country’s refugee camps, including religious minorities like Rohingya Christians.

Pakistani politicians initiate debate to amend the blasphemy law



(Agenzia Fides) The debate to amend the controversial “blasphemy law”, composed of the articles of the Penal Code that punish with life imprisonment or the death penalty insults against Islam has begun in the Pakistani Senate. It was Muslim Senator Farhatullah Baber, a member of the Pakistan People’s Party and representative of the Special Committee of the Pakistani Senate on human rights, to introduce the theme to look for ways to stop the abuse of the law.

The new attempt to discuss the matter in Parliament comes a decade after parliamentary Minocher Bhandara, a Zoroastrian, presented in 2007 a bill with amendments to the blasphemy law. The proposal was immediately blocked by the then Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, Sher Afgan Niazi, for fear of offending the feelings of Muslims, appealing to the principle that “no law should contradict Islamic law”. (more…)

Prayer and Fasting continue for pastor detained in Turkey


(Voice of the Persecuted) At this time, due to ongoing negotiations, we can only share that Turkish authorities have released Norine Brunson and her husband, Andrew is still being detained. We request that prayer and fasting continue for Andrew. Prior to their arrest on Oct. 7, 2016, Pastor Andrew Brunson had been leading the Izmir Resurrection Church, a small Protestant congregation averaging 30 to 40 worshipers. The American couple have been residents of Turkey for the past 20 years. We are staying in communication and will share updates, including how you can get involved if further action becomes necessary.

As always, your continued love, concern and prayers are much appreciated. We know that God will cause good to come from this. Andrew’s wife, Norine told Voice of the Persecuted that she is tremendously blessed to hear that a large network of prayer warriors are lifting her and her husband in prayer, each day.

“Amazing.  Humbling.  Please pass on our gratefulness,” she added.

Your prayers are such an encouragement and make a difference to those suffering for Christ. Please continue to press in for this faithful couple and their family.

  • Pray for Andrew and peace for his wife, Norine.
  • Pray the authorities would not discriminate against Christians in Turkey.
  • Pray for religious freedom in Turkey


Pakistan’s Blasphemy Law: Origin of 295-C

In July 1986, the National Assembly of Pakistan passed Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, III of 1986, S. 2. The passage of this Act amended Chapter XV of the Pakistan Penal Code, entitled “Offences Relating to Religion”, via the creation of Article 295-C.

View this short video which tells the story of the National Assembly session on 9 July 1986 leading up to the passage of the 295-C amendment. It was during this session that 295-C took on its final form and punishment by death was introduced into the legislation. As the video shows, Members of the National Assembly who supported the introduction of the death penalty claimed that their position was in accordance with the universal consensus of Islamic legal scholars throughout history. In fact, however, the position of those who supported the death penalty was based on misunderstandings and misrepresentations of the very scholars they claimed to be following. As such, this video seeks to educate the public about the real positions of these scholars.


INDIA – A Christian attacked because he proclaimed the Gospel in the street


Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC)

(Agenzia Fides) – Beaten and stripped naked in the street: is the fate of the Christian Pentecostal Indian citizen attacked in the state of Bihar because he preached faith in Christ publicly. As reported to Fides by the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), the incident occurred in the district of Patna, capital of Bihar. The Christian Deepak Kumar had stopped in front of Barh railway station and started to speak publicly of Christ, proclaiming his Gospel to who wanted to listen to him.
Suddenly ten militants, allegedly belonging to Hindu extremist groups, approached and started to beat and insult him, leaving him on the ground half naked and wounded. Sajan K George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) has condemned the violence and told Fides: “These men have committed a crime and must be stopped. Kumar was not doing anything illegal: he was simply talking to people, exercising a freedom enshrined in the Constitution. The law is equal for everyone: even Christians are Indian citizens”.

Cotton Introduces Religious Persecution Relief Act to Protect Syrian Religious Minorities

Senator Tom Cotton

Senator Tom Cotton

Contact: Caroline Rabbitt (202) 224-2353

March 17, 2016 Washington, D.C.- Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) today introduced the Religious Persecution Relief Act, legislation that would grant religious minorities fleeing persecution at the hands of ISIS and other groups in Syria priority status so they can apply directly to the U.S. resettlement program. The bill will also set aside 10,000 resettlement slots annually that must be devoted to Syrian religious minorities. Overall, the bill will allow Syrian religious minorities, who fear registration with the U.N. refugee agency, to circumvent the U.N. process and it will fast-track the U.S. review process that confirms they are victims of genocide and persecution.

“The Islamic State is seeking to eradicate Christians, Yazidis, Turkmen, Sabean-Mandeans, Jews, and other religious groups it sees as apostates and infidels. The United States cannot stand idly by and allow this persecution to continue. We must not only recognize what’s happening as genocide, but also take action to relieve it,” said Senator Cotton. “This bill will help save ancient faiths from genocide by allowing the United States to identify persecuted people to whom we can grant safe haven. And it will maintain the same security vetting process experienced by all other refugee applicants ensuring that the safety of the American people is protected.”

Earlier today, Senator Cotton spoke about the persecution of religious minorities in Syria and Iraq as well as this legislation on the Senate floor. A transcript of his remarks can be found here and the video of his remarks below.


A fact sheet on the Religious Persecution Relief Act can be found here.

Background: Since 2011, UNHCR has referred approximately 20,000 Syrian resettlement applications to the United States, and 2,147 of those referred have been resettled. 18,000 applications await review. The U.S. relies almost exclusively on UNHCR referrals for all resettlement applications from Syrian refugees, yet they remain underrepresented in the UNHCR registration system. This bill would attempt to mitigate that problem by extending priority refugee status already offered to other religious and ethnic groups under the Lautenberg Amendment / Specter Amendment / Kennedy bill to Syrian religious minorities. This would prioritize them in the U.S. resettlement review process. The 1989 Lautenberg Amendment created a refugee category for certain Soviet and Indochinese nationals that would be entitled to priority status-known as “P-2 status”-in the U.S. resettlement program and was extended by Senators Spector and Kennedy to apply to other minorities. This bill would also add 10,000 resettlement spots per fiscal year that are dedicated to Syrian religious minorities, and require this for five years. The total resettlement target number is 50,000.


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