Sacrilege penalties 'must be harsher'

Narere, Fiji - THE penal code should be changed to allow for harsher penalties against people convicted of desecration and sacrilege.

National Federation Party general secretary Pramod Rae said this following the violation of a temple at Narere, Nasinu, for the second time this year.

Mr Rae said the desecration of the temple at Narere confirmed the extent of racial and religious intolerance in the country.

"While the vast majority of our multi-racial community strongly condemns these acts of religious intolerance, the frequency with which temples are being violated is no longer acceptable," he said.

Mr Rae said earlier in the year, Vice President Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi had said it was fortunate that the victims of such acts had not retaliated.

"Any religion is sacred and those who indulge in this heinous crime must remember that those affected will not sit quiet forever and continue forgiving them," he said.

Mr Rae said laws governing desecration and sacrilege were archaic and penalties were equivalent to that of damaging property.

"This is truly scandalous and does not in any way serve as a deterrent. While Section 298 of the Penal Code imposes an imprisonment term of 14 years for sacrilege, Section 145 dilutes such offences to a misdemeanour," he said.

Multi-Ethnic Affairs Minister George Raj said: "This is the worst kind of offence anyone can commit. The punishment for this offence should be harsher than for murder.

"People should remember, even if somebody burns down a temple, they will never be able to take away the religious beliefs of a person.

"People will always follow their religion and no one can take that away from them."

Police records show there have been 34 cases of sacrilege in Fiji from January to September this year.