LFL: The escalating religious intolerance must stop

Press Statement

Lawyers for Liberty views with extreme concern the escalating religious intolerance in Malaysia where in recent months, several minor incidents of perceived insult against Islam have been blown completely out of proportion by Umno leaders, their supporters and the mainstream media – leading to the arrest and remand of Maznah Yusof @ Chetz and Syed Ahmad (the resort owner), and in Alvivi’s case, criminal charges and denial of bail (which was later reversed after eight days in prison).

While religion especially Islam is a sensitive subject to most, this however must not detract from the fact that Malaysia is a multi-racial and multi-religious democratic state with established democratic norms including the Federal Constitution guaranteeing fundamental rights; rule of law; due process and other practises that mark Malaysia as a modern and civilised state.

Religion like any other important issue cannot escape from being subject to scrutiny, comment, satire and to the less eloquent, insult and condemnation. The government and state institutions such as PDRM, Attorney-General’s Chambers and JAKIM instead of advocating harsh action should take a more measured approach in diffusing this obvious attempt to pit Malay/Muslim against other ethnic group/religion and explain why Islam or any other religion should not be subjected to insults.

While it is true freedom of speech is not absolute and there are accepted limitations e.g. incitement to violence and hate speech – the threshold for freedom of speech however must be high. This is all the more true in the vast and borderless internet and social media age where anybody, in good faith or otherwise can comment on any issues including on religion. It would be futile and irresponsible for the authorities to keep going after these perceived “insults” when there are more pressing matters at hand especially the high crime rate and the shocking spate of violent crimes involving guns and explosives.

What Alvivi, Chetz and Syed Ahmad have done while insensitive and naïve were nothing compared to what pro-Umno individuals like Ibrahim Ali, Zulkilfi Noordin, Ridhuan Tee, Mohd Noor Abdullah and others have done which were much more serious and offensive but led to no repercussion or action. Needless to say, the authorities have acted selectively, disproportionately, in bad faith and double standards when persecuting Alvivi, Chetz and Syed Ahmad while doing nothing against pro-Umno individuals.

We therefore call on the authorities to act fairly and professionally, and not to misuse their powers for Umno’s political ends which are clearly aimed at eroding our nation’s inter-ethnic/ inter-religious relations and dividing the nation between Malay/Muslim and other ethnic group/religion and bolstering Umno’s credential as the “defender” of Islam and Malays.

Released by:
Eric Paulsen
Co-founder & Adviser
Lawyers for Liberty

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