PUTRAJAYA: The police today distanced themselves from the detention of over 200 Iraqi nationals for taking part in a Shia Muslim ceremony, saying the arrests were made by the Selangor religious authorities.
In confirming the arrests, Inspector-General of Police Mohamad Fuzi Harun said they were only there to assist the religious authorities.
“Yes, arrests were made, but I cannot divulge any details,” he told reporters after attending the Warriors Day celebration here this morning.
Fuzi added that the National Fatwa Council had already issued an edict against such ceremonies.
He also confirmed that similar arrests were made in another state but said he was unsure of the details.
Islamic authorities in Selangor recently arrested more than 200 Iraqi nationals for taking part in a Shia Muslim ceremony. It has emerged that they were released following pressure from Iraqi authorities.
The Iraqis, mostly students pursuing masters and postgraduate studies, were arrested together with their family members as authorities conducted a crackdown ahead of Ashura, which falls on 10 Muharram of the Islamic calendar.
Shia Muslims worldwide mark the week leading to Ashura with events to commemorate the death anniversary of Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Hussein, a central figure in Shia Islam.
According to several Arabic-language media outlets, the Iraqis who were arrested were released following pressure from Baghdad.
“The youths detained in Malaysia have all been released,” Al-Kawthar TV, a pan-Arab channel operating from Tehran, quoted Iraqi foreign ministry spokesman Ahmed Mahjoub as saying.
It also quoted the ministry as saying that it “would not tolerate the Malaysian authorities’ detention of (Iraqi) students”, adding that Baghdad viewed the action “as damaging bilateral relations”.
The Baghdad Post meanwhile reported that the Iraqis were arrested as officers raided a private function at Juta Mines, a condominium near Serdang, Selangor.
The report coincided with the arrest of a group of Muslims in Johor over the weekend for participating in similar events.
Religious authorities in Malaysia regard Shia Muslims as heretics, with a ban on Shia teachings enforced through a 1996 ruling by the National Fatwa Council.
Shia Muslims had been arrested in Malaysia in the past, although those from majority Shia countries such as Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and Kuwait were largely spared.