KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 17 — Putrajaya and Malaysia’s religious authorities are only interested in political gain by demonising and prosecuting Shiah Muslims, rights group Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) claimed today amid an ongoing crackdown here on Islam’s second largest sect members.
In accusing the authorities of abusing their power, LFL co-founder and advisor Eric Paulsen said there is no basis for the state’s heavy-handed action against Shiah followers despite the many claims made by the state’s top officials, including the police.
“The state’s move in persecuting and criminalising a vulnerable minority religious sect which has not committed any criminal offence or acts of violence is an arrogant display of arbitrary power for political mileage under the smokescreen of defending Islam and Muslims,” he said in a statement today.
“We see parallels with Myanmar’s persecution of Muslims by the Buddhist-majority state, which has very little to do with defending Buddhism and Buddhists, but everything to do with political expediency,” he added, referring to the long-standing issue of state-sponsored persecution of the Rohingya, who are mostly Muslim and deemed stateless by the Myanmar government.
Putrajaya launched a concerted move against followers of the Shiah sect after Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi declared during the recently concluded 64th Umno General Assembly that it is in the interest of “faith and national security” that the government clamp down on the spread of the Shiah ideology.
Ahmad Zahid had also issued an order to religious authorities to act against PAS deputy president Mohamad Sabu over his alleged links to the Shiah movement, though the PAS number two has since denied the claim and said he will sue the minister over the statement.
In 1996, the National Fatwa Council decided that the Shiah sect is a deviant movement that goes against the tenets of Sunnah wal Jamaah, the dominant Islamic ideology in Malaysia.
Paulsen said today that LFL are “extremely concerned” with the government’s “renewed and coordinated campaign” against Shiah Muslims, with two people in Perak facing up to two years jail and a RM1,000 fine for allegedly having books on Shiah teachings.
The group also criticised Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar for making a “sweeping and unsubstantiated” link between the Shiah sect and militancy.
Paulsen stressed that the Federal Constitution and numerous international conventions such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provide for freedom of religion, equality and non-discrimination and that the state must fulfil a high threshold before being able to restrict such freedoms in the interest of public safety, public order, health, morals or the fundamental rights of others.
“Mere dissatisfaction with Shiah beliefs and practices and that they are ‘deviants’ are not sufficient grounds for the state to intervene, let alone criminalise an entire system of belief.
“LFL therefore calls upon the state and religious authorities to stop this bullying and witch hunting of Shiah Muslims which if they were to continue will inevitably lead to similar religious vigilantism and violence against Shiah as seen in Pakistan, Indonesia and Egypt,” he said.
In Malaysia, Shiah is also spelled as Shia and Syiah.
The Shiah school is believed to be followed by some 15 per cent of Muslims worldwide, and is mainly practised in Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan and Bahrain while those in Southeast Asia predominantly follow Sunni Islam.
BY JOSEPH SIPALAN, The Malaymail Online