Press Statement

17 December 2013

Lawyers for Liberty is extremely concerned with the continuing hate speech and demonisation of Shia Muslims in Malaysia where not a day goes by without state and religious authorities condemning and exaggerating the perceived threats posed by Shia and its followers.

This renewed and coordinated campaign has led to two Malaysians in Perak being charged for possession of Shia materials, IGP Khalid Abu Bakar making a sweeping and unsubstantiated linkage between Shia and militancy and Home Minister Zahid Hamidi making an unprecedented public “outing” of PAS Deputy President Mat Sabu as a Shia.

The supreme law of Malaysia, the Federal Constitution provides for Fundamental Liberties including the Freedom of Religion and Equality and Non-Discrimination. It is not the business of the state to proclaim the illegitimacy of any religion or belief on its own whim and fancy and with no basis under law, just because the religion or belief is different from Islam (according to the authorities’ interpretation) or other officially recognised religions or beliefs.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other human rights instruments set the international standard for states to provide for the freedom of thought, conscience and religion. In order to restrict these international freedoms, the state must justify on a high threshold that the restrictions are necessary to protect public safety, public order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights of others. Mere dissatisfaction with Shia 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.

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. 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.

LFL therefore calls upon the state and religious authorities to stop this bullying and witch hunting of Shia Muslims which if they were to continue will inevitably lead to similar religious vigilantism and violence against Shia as seen in Pakistan, Indonesia and Egypt.

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

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