Government Halts Public Debate on Religion

August 8, 2006

Source: Reuters

On August 8, 2006 Reuters reported, "Malaysia had been slowly opening up greater space for public debate of religious and racial issues but has suddenly brought down the curtain on the experiment amid fears that Islam is coming under siege. Wider coverage in the mainstream media of sensitive topics such as conversion, apostasy and Malay rights has stirred tension in the Muslim community by provoking fears it represented an attempt to erode the distinctive place of Islam in Malaysia. Now the government -- ever anxious about the prospect of disharmony in one of Asia's most multi-racial communities -- appears to have put a halt to the debate, and the coverage. 'If the discussions are not kept in check or contained, they are bound to raise tension in our multi-religious society,' the Star newspaper quoted Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi as saying recently. Since taking power in 2003, Abdullah had given the media greater leeway than in the past, but Muslim conservatives who fear secular authority is encroaching on the religious realm became more vocal in opposing discussion of religious issues."