Malaysian police warn security law can be used to detain pranksters

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - Malaysia’s police chief warned Tuesday that pranksters who spread rumors about religion through cell phone text messages or e-mails could be held under a security law allowing detention without trial, a news agency reported.

Inspector General of Police Musa Hassan was quoted by the national news agency Bernama as saying the Internal Security Act could be invoked against such individuals for threatening national security.

His warning came after a widely distributed cell phone text message claiming that a large group of Malay Muslims would convert to Christianity sparked racial tensions in a northern Malaysian state at the weekend.

Religious conversion is a highly sensitive subject in this multiethnic nation, and Muslims in Malaysia are not legally permitted to convert. Proselytizing of Muslims by members of other religions is also prohibited.

Some 1,000 Malays protested Sunday outside a Roman Catholic church in Perak state where the text messages said the conversions would take place. The crowd dispersed after learning that the ceremony taking place was a Communion Mass for about 100 ethnic Indian Catholic children.

We can investigate the matter under the ISA,’ Musa said in the Bernama report. I advise the people not to easily trust such rumors.’

Musa could not be immediately reached for comment on the report.

Malaysia’s population of 26 million people is about 60 percent Malay Muslim, 25 percent Chinese Buddhists and Christians, and 10 percent Indians, who are mainly Hindus and Christians.

Malaysian Christians and one Islamic group have expressed outrage at Sunday’s protest.

The Council of Churches of Malaysia said the incident showed that religious extremism is rearing its ugly head’ and voiced concern that such mobs could appear at other churches.

We appeal to the prime minister and his Cabinet that a clear statement be issued that the rights of all religious communities to worship in peace will be respected and protected,’ council president Bishop Lim Cheng Ean said in a statement.

All attempts by ill-intentioned groups to instill a climate of fear, by perpetrating dubious text messages or demonstrating in front of religious places, should be dealt with firmly by the authorities to ensure such incidents do not recur,’ he said.

Sisters in Islam, a non-governmental organization, said the incident marked a regressive and damaging trend where individuals and groups have deliberately used religion to drive a wedge between the different ethnic groups in the country.’

The group condemned the despicable act’ of sowing racial hatred and ill-will.

We are sorry that the intimidating actions of a small, ill-informed group of Muslims have caused fear and anxiety amongst fellow Malaysians,’ it said in a statement. Islam, as with other religions, does not in any way condone any form of violence.’