THE section stated: “Some governments have implemented laws or regulations that favour certain religions and place others at a disadvantage. Often this circumstance results from the historical predominance of one religion in a country and may reflect broad social scepticism about new or minority religions. At times it stems from the emergence of a country from a long period of Communist rule, in which all religion was prohibited or, at best, out of favour.
“In such countries, scepticism or even the fear of certain religions or all religions lingers within segments of society. In some cases, this circumstance has led to a curtailment of religious freedom.”
The report went on to list the nine countries in the section – Belarus, Brunei, Eritrea, Indonesia, Israel and the Occupied Territories, Malaysia, Moldova Russia and Turkey.
It described Malaysia thus: “Islam is the official religion, although the constitution provides for freedom of religion. The Government considers adherence to Sunni Islam intrinsic to Malay ethnic identity; therefore, Sunni Islamic religious laws bind ethnic Malays, who represent approximately 55 percent of the population.
“The Government monitored the activities of the Shi’a minority and claimed the right to detain members of what it considers Islamic “deviant sects”, that is, groups that do not follow the official Sunni teachings.
“The right to leave the Islamic faith and adhere to another religion remained controversial, and in practice it was very difficult for Muslims to change religions. Non-Muslim religious minorities generally worship freely although with some restrictions, such as construction of places of worship and new cemeteries.”
Immediately after the Executive Summary was released, TV3 interviewed NECF Malaysia Secretary-General Rev Wong Kim Kong for his views on Malaysia’s position in the report. The interview was aired on the television station’s 8pm and midnight news last Dec 19. Rev Wong said it was not fair and accurate to put Malaysia among the top nine countries that have discriminatory policies or legislations disadvantaging religions other than the official religions.
There is greater religious freedom in Malaysia compared with some countries in the Middle East and other parts of the world, he added and pointed out that in Malaysia, the people have the liberty to believe, practise, propagate and overn their faiths according to Article 11 of the Federal Constitution – the country’s supreme laws.
They are also free to publicly carry out religious celebration and practices, he said, and in fact, the Government has been sponsoring national celebrations of religious festivals such as Christmas, for the past three years. Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had also sent out personally-signed Christmas cards to 1,500 churches during the 2003 Christmas season, Rev Wong said.
“We are free to organise religious meetings and evangelistic rallies at public places such as stadiums. Therefore the summary is not acceptable,” he said at the interview.
Asked why the summary contained the distorted perception, Rev Wong said the writers could have been ignorant of the true situation in Malaysia, or could have been misinformed by people who did not understand the context we are living in.
Rev Wong said that people with the wrong perception of religious liberty in Malaysia should come and live in Malaysia to experience the true religious atmosphere and talk to the various religious leaders.
However, the full report on Malaysia (see next page) is fair and accurately reflects some of the restrictions faced by certain religions in the country, Rev Wong stressed at the interview.
He asked that the Government to look at the comments in the report and consider ways to resolve the issues highlighted.