Malaysia must be put on special watchlist for religious freedom, says US body

The US commission on freedom of religion takes posItive note of formation of special task force set up to probe the disappearances of (from left) Pastor Raymond Koh, Amri Che Mat, Pastor Joshua Hilmy and Ruth Sitepu.

PETALING JAYA: A United States federal commission has proposed that Washington include Malaysia on its special watchlist for violations on religious freedom in the country.

In its annual report on religious freedom around the world, the United States Commission on International Freedom of Religions (USCIRF) said religious freedom had continued to trend negatively in 2019, as it did the year before that.

It said conditions for minority-faith believers and even Sunni Muslims had either stagnated or worsened, while non-Muslim communities reported feeling heightened tensions and social hostility.

The commission cited the crackdown on followers of Shia Islam and the punishment of four men and two teenagers in Terengganu for not attending Friday prayers as examples.

“In Form 5 (for ages 16–17), religious textbooks condemn non-Sunni sects of Islam. The state issues sermons each Friday, often warning Muslims against these ‘deviant’ sects.”

It said there was a positive note from the special task force set up to probe the disappearances of Pastor Raymond Koh, Amri Che Mat, Pastor Joshua Hilmy and Ruth Sitepu, although their locations remained unknown.

The commission recommended that Malaysian authorities be trained on “community-based policing” to share practices on interacting with different faith communities and protecting religious places.

It also proposed that its international visitor leadership programme be extended to Malaysian lawyers and human rights activists.

USCIRF is described as an independent, bipartisan US federal government commission dedicated to defending the right to freedom of religion or beliefs abroad. It makes policy recommendations to the US government.

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