Malaysian police arrest woman over hoax text about Muslims being proselytized

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - Malaysian police on Tuesday arrested a Muslim woman who allegedly sent a hoax phone text message about Muslims being baptized in a Roman Catholic church that triggered angry protests, police said.

The woman, identified as Raja Sherina, was arrested along with her husband, said a police spokesman in northern Perak state, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with policy.

He provided no further details, and did not know if she would be charged for allegedly spreading rumors that posed a threat to national security in a nation that carefully guards its religious balance.

It is not immediately clear if the couple turned themselves in, or if police were tipped off to their whereabouts.

Police released a photograph of the woman, carried by most major newspapers on Tuesday, and called for help from the public in tracking her down.

Perak state Police Chief Aziz Bulat had said Raja Sherina was asked to report to authorities in connection with the protests last week, the Star newspaper reported Tuesday. She failed to show up, it said.

Authorities searched her homes in Perak and in neighboring Kedah state, but found both empty, Aziz added, according to The Star.

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.

The mobile phone text message, allegedly originating from Raja Sherina, sparked religious tension in Perak's capital city of Ipoh earlier this month, where some 1,000 Muslim Malays protested outside the church where the conversions were expected to take place.

The crowd dispersed after learning that the ceremony was actually for about 100 ethnic Indian Catholics receiving their first Communion.

Malaysia's police chief Musa Hassan has warned that people who spread rumors about religion through text messages or e-mails could be held under the Internal Security Act, which allows detention without trial and is usually invoked against threats to national security.

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.

Race and religion are taboo topics in the Southeast Asian nation, and are rarely discussed openly.