Jail threatened over Islam insults

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - MALAYSIA'S de facto law minister has threatened to jail or fine non-Muslims who insult Islam, amid concern over recent articles perceived as attacking the religion.

Mohamad Nazri Abdul Aziz said the country's sedition act could be used on non-Muslims who make comments construed as belittling Islam.

"We will not think twice about using this law against anybody who incites," Mohamad Nazri, a minister in the prime minister's department, was quoted as saying in the Star newspaper today.

The minister said he was concerned over recent articles written about Islam by non-Muslims, and warned there was a limit to what could be said in the Muslim-majority country.

"I want to remind non-Muslims to refrain from making statements on something they do not understand," he said.

"We do not want to take away your rights but religion is an important matter, especially to the Muslims."

The minister's comments come amid heated debates over Islamic family legislation passed by Parliament last year, which critics say will help Muslim men to take multiple wives and claim property after divorce.

Malaysia also faced a storm of controversy in January over the Muslim burial of a Hindu whose wife disputed claimed he had ever converted to Islam, with non-Muslims protesting their rights were being infringed.

The daughter of former premier Mahathir Mohamad, Marina Mahathir earlier this month lashed out against a climate of fear surrounding the discussion of Islam in Malaysia, where Muslims live alongside ethnic Chinese and Indians.

A leading social activist and critic of the family legislation, she said it was becoming difficult for anyone other than Muslim men with religious backgrounds to speak about Islam.

The Sedition Act, introduced by former British rulers, is used to curb speech detrimental to the Government, inciting racial hatred, or questioning the rights of Malaysia's ethnic Muslim Malay majority.

Penalties include up to three years in jail or a fine of 5000 ringgit ($1880) or both.

Rights activists say the Government uses the act to curb political opponents and the media.