Lawyers for Liberty views with extreme concern the state religious authorities’ coordinated campaign of harassment against Shia Muslims with neither proper justification nor constitutional authority.
In the past week, dozens of Shia Muslims, including foreigners, have been arrested following a series of raids in Selangor and Johor carried out by the respective states’ religious authorities.
These raids are not new but form part of a consistent crackdown on followers of Shia Islam, which the religious authorities have labelled a “deviant” movement.
Article 11 of the Federal Constitution clearly stipulates that every person has the right to profess and practise their religion.
Yet our religious authorities commonly fall back on Article 11(4), which limits the propagation of any religious doctrine among Muslims, to justify their actions. Any interpretation of this which would allow the authorities unbridled and arbitrary powers to oppress Shia Muslims is erroneous and amounts to a disproportionate restriction on freedom of religion.
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These raids contravene international human rights law, which guarantees the right to freedom of religion and protects individuals from discrimination by the government and any state institution on the grounds of religion or belief.
By international standards, limitations on the freedom of religion can only be justified if they are necessary for the protection of public safety, order, health or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.
Merely disagreeing with the teachings and practices of Shia Islam is not sufficient grounds for these harsh actions. Furthermore, those who have been arrested had been practising their faith behind closed doors in private ceremonies that could not be described as propagation of the religion among Muslims.
Those who were arrested had not committed any genuine crimes nor caused any harm to anyone. Such raids are an unacceptable intrusion into the lives and dignity of Shia Muslims.
We strongly urge the government and state religious authorities to end this unnecessary assault on the religious freedom of Shia Muslims. If Malaysia truly is the harmonious, multicultural and multi-religious society that it claims to be, we must accept the practice of every religion, including Shia Islam.
Melissa Sasidaran is director of Lawyers for Liberty.