French missionary ordered deported from Malaysia after distributing Christian literature

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - A French missionary arrested on blasphemy-related charges in mostly-Muslim Malaysia was freed without conviction but ordered out of the country, a court official said Thursday.

Bastin Fabien Henri Andre, 48, of Calais, was detained May 23 for distributing pamphlets titled "Bible Copyright and Koran Plagiary" at a shopping mall in Ipoh, 200 kilometers (125 miles) north of Kuala Lumpur, a court official told The Associated Press.

He was charged with "acting in a manner which could lead to disharmony between Christians and Muslims," which carries a maximum penalty of between two and five years imprisonment, the New Straits Times newspaper reported.

But Magistrate Al-Muhammad Mukmin Abdul Ghani said he did not have jurisdiction to rule on the charge because it involved religious laws, the official said on customary condition of anonymity.

In Malaysia, Islamic laws administered by state governments and applying to the majority Muslim population operate alongside secular national laws including the Constitution and the Penal Code.

The magistrate discharged Henri Andre but said he had not been acquitted, and ordered that the Frenchman be deported.

The ruling means Henri Andre could be charged under Islamic laws if state officials wished to pursue the case, the court official told AP.

Henri Andre was pictured in the New Straits Times smiling outside the courtroom and wearing a T-shirt with "Police" written on the front.

Officials contacted by the AP at the French Embassy in Kuala Lumpur were aware of the case but said they could not immediately comment.

About two thirds of the 23 million population of this Southeast Asian country are Muslims; most of the rest of are ethnic Chinese or Indians, mostly Christians, Buddhists or Hindus.

Malaysia's Constitution enshrines Islam as the national religion, although it also guarantees freedom of worship to non-Muslims. It also says that state laws may control or restrict the propagation of any other religious doctrine among Muslims.

The Bernama national news agency reported that police had previously detained the Henri Andre for distributing the same pamphlets at a highway rest stop.