PETALING JAYA: Natasha was watching a movie at her home in London on Sept 9 when her phone rang.
The voice at the other end told her that religious authorities in Selangor had arrested a volunteer for her charity organisation in a crackdown against Shia Muslims.
Natasha, who declined to give her full name, heads the Malaysian chapter of the organisation called Who is Hussain? (WIH) in honour of a grandson of Prophet Muhammad, Al-Hussain ibn Ali, who was martyred in Karbala in the year 680.
“My worst fears had come true,” she told FMT, adding that she found herself not knowing what to do because her group didn’t even have a lawyer.
She claimed that the 25-year-old volunteer was detained for 19 hours and was denied contact with his family and prevented from engaging a lawyer.
The volunteer, a Pakistani national, was among many foreigners arrested in fresh raids in Selangor and Johor. He is accused of defying a fatwa that declares Shia teachings as deviant and is expected to be charged under Selangor’s Shariah Criminal Enactment for contempt of religious authorities.
Since she couldn’t speak to the volunteer, Natasha said, she tried dealing with officers at Jais, the Selangor religious department. But this turned out to be a wild goose chase, she alleged without elaborating.
She said her mind was filled with worst case scenarios.
“Was this another Amri Che Mat?” she wondered, referring to the Perlis activist who has been missing since 2016. Amri, too, was accused of spreading Shia teachings.
Suhakam has classified Amri’s case as one of enforced disappearance and alleged that the state is behind it.
Natasha, who professes to be a Sunni Muslim, expects the anti-Shia crackdown to get worse.
“Now, they are going after foreigners despite the previous government’s assurance that no action would be taken against those who practise in private,” she said.
The crackdown means that WIH Malaysia will remain dormant for now. It was instructed by the organisation’s headquarters to keep a low profile in May, after police and religious authorities said they would work together to stop the distribution of leaflets on Al-Hussain.
Natasha has repeatedly declared that WIH is a charity organisation with no affiliation to any religion.
She said the crackdown had been traumatic and had made the group afraid of carrying out charitable work.
“All we ever wanted was to do good. It’s depressing that we are made to feel as if we are doing something sinful.”