Malaysia Will Tape Sermons at Mosques

In a move to stop Islam from being used to undermine the government, Malaysian authorities in Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's home state will start video-taping sermons at mosques, a newspaper reported on Tuesday.

Malaysia is trying to stamp out seeds of Muslim militancy and stem a tide of support for the conservative Islamic opposition sweeping across the ethnic Malays' northern heartland.

The government has already announced plans to cut funding for religious schools suspected of sowing hatred toward Mahathir.

The local government in Kedah plans to use cameras at six mosques where imams are known to attack the government, while audio tapes will be used at others, the newspaper reported.

The opposition Parti-Islam se-Malaysia (PAS) hopes to oust Mahathir's United Malays National Organization (UMNO) from the Kedah state government at the next election in 2004.

"This is not to punish the imams, but to clear the air over the issue of imams abusing their position and disseminating anti-government messages through their sermons," Kedah Chief Minister Syed Razak Syed Zain, was reported as saying by the New Straits Times.

Any imams found guilty will be told to quit their post.

Opposition parties say Mahathir, who retires at the end of next year after 22 years in charge, is too authoritarian. Political rallies are tightly controlled, and the mainstream media is pro-government.

Mahathir, who heads a multi-ethnic coalition, is seen as moderate and tolerant on religious issues. PAS wants to turn the country into an Islamic state -- starting with introducing Muslims' sharia law complete with punishments like amputation and stoning.

Besides trying to neutralize radicalism in the mosques and classrooms, Malaysian police are also battling secret militant networks, and have arrested nearly 70 members of Jemaah Islamiah, the group suspected of being behind last month's Bali bomb blast.

Abu Bakar Bashir, the Indonesian preacher under arrest in Jakarta and alleged to be Jemaah's spiritual leader, fled Indonesia and used Malaysia as his base until the late 1990s.