WASHINGTON: The United States Commission on the International Religious Freedom is concerned by recent actions taken by the Malaysian government, directed against the Hindu minority, curtailing their human rights including the freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, and several other religious freedom concerns. Two weeks ago, police used tear gas and water cannons against peaceful demonstrations by an estimated 10,000 members of the ethnic Indian Hindu minority. Authorities sought to prevent the protests, locking down roads and parks in Kuala Lumpur and arresting suspected organisers. Over 700 protesters who had taken refuge in the Batu Cave Temple in Kuala Lumpur were gassed and beaten. Police used similar violent tactics last month against demonstrators for electoral reforms, including using tear gas against those seeking refuge at Kuala Lumpur'sJamek mosque.
The demonstrations last week were organised to bring attention to the economic, social, and religious discrimination against the Indian minority in Malaysia, including the demolition and destruction of Hindu temples and shrines. Attempts by lawyers and activists to stop the destruction of temples have met with little success. In late October, authorities demolished the 100-year-old Maha Mariamman Hindu Temple and reportedly assaulted its chief priest. Recently, the Sri Periyachi Amman Temple in Tambak Paya Village, Malacca was demolished by local authorities, despite having received a ?stay order? from state officials.
?Continued discrimination against members of the ethnic Indian Hindu minority, including the destruction of sacred places and images, only fuels religious unrest and intolerance,? said Commission Chair, Michael Cromartie. ?The Commission urges the U.S. government to raise the destruction of Hindu temples with Malaysian authorities and insist that immediate measures be taken to protect sacred sites and prevent further destruction.
Police arrested three of the demonstration organisers: P. Waytha Moorthy, his brother and another associate. The three men were later charged in court with allegedly making seditious comments, which carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison. A local court judge dismissed the charges against them on a technicality, but new charges may be filed at any time. In addition, Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi threatened to employ the Internal Security Act (ISA) to prevent future demonstrations by the the Indian Hindus, a law that allows detention without trial for an extended period.
?We urge the U.S. government to raise the cases of the demonstration'sorganizers and seek promises that no charges will be filed against them, including detentions under the ISA,? said Cromartie. ?Malaysia should ensure that internationally protected rights to peaceful assembly, expression, and freedom of thought, conscience, and religion are protected,? he said.
Demolitions of Hindu temples and shrines have increased tremendously over the past several years, spurred by religious and political competition in the countryside and battles over eminent domain in the cities. Most demolitions have purportedly occurred due to the extension of expressways and other development projects in and around Kuala Lumpur. Mosques and some Christian churches either have received compensation or successfully diverted the projects. But no such facility was given to Hindus when their temples or statues were demolished. (FOC)