Putrajaya imposes ‘very high’ restrictions on religion, global study finds

Putrajaya’s restrictions on religion are among the worst in the world, revealed a study by American think tank Pew Research Centre.

The report, Restrictions on Religion, which covered 198 countries, found that Malaysia is among the 24 nations with “very high” government restrictions on religion.

It also found that the number of countries with “high or very high level of social hostilities involving religion reached a six-year-peak in 2012”.“A third (33%) of the 198 countries and territories included in the study had high religious hostilities in 2012, up from 29% in 2011 and 20% as of mid-2007,” said the report.

Placing Malaysia on par with countries like Egypt, Syria, Somalia, Russia, Sudan and Iraq, the report measured “government laws, policies and actions that restrict religious beliefs and practices” for its Government Restrictions Index (GRI).

The report, which covered more than 99.5% of the world's population, had looked at “efforts by governments to ban particular faiths, prohibit conversions, limit preaching or give preferential treatment to one or more religious groups”.

Countries were divided into groups ranging from “very high”, “high”, “moderate” to “low” according to scores. In the Social Hostilities Index (SHI), Malaysia is placed in the "high" group, along with 44 other countries that included Iran, Kuwait, France and Italy.

The SHI measured “religious hostility by private individuals, organisations or groups in society” including “religion-related armed conflict or terrorism, mob or sectarian violence, harassment over attire for religious reasons or other religion-related intimidation or abuse”.

Pew Research’s study only covered events that occurred till the end of 2012 and so omitted the recent clampdown on Christians pertaining to the use of the word Allah in churches and Bahasa Malaysia bibles.

However, attacks against Christians had begun a few years before last year’s court ruling.

Some 10 churches and several mosques were attacked or vandalised in early 2010 after the Kuala Lumpur High Court ruled in favour of Herald. Arson attacks in the form of petrol bombs and Molotov cocktails were thrown at churches, sparking public outcry and condemnation.

In 2009, Muslims opposing a relocation of a Hindu temple had protested by desecrating a cow head, an animal sacred to Hindus.

Then Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein had defended the protesters, calling the proposal by the Selangor government to build a Hindu temple in Shah Alam as unsuitable since it is a majority Muslim neighbourhood.

“The study finds that the share of countries where some level of government interfered with worship or other religious practices increased to 74% in 2012,”the report noted.

“Overall, restrictions increased in 61% of countries and decreased in 29% between 2011 and 2012,” it added.

Pew Research’s findings are based on multiple sources of information including the US State Department, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, among others. – January 15, 2014.