Thursday, December 6, 2007

US panel concerned at Malaysian temple destruction

US panel concerned at Malaysian temple destruction
Thu Dec 6, 6:12 PM ET

WASHINGTON (AFP) - A US Congress-appointed commission expressed concern Thursday at the destruction of Hindu temples and other alleged discrimination faced by religious minorities in predominantly-Muslim Malaysia.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom urged the administration of President George W. Bush to raise the matter with Kuala Lumpur and "insist that immediate measures be taken to protect sacred sites and prevent further destruction."

The commission said it was "concerned" by recent Malaysian government actions against the
ethnic Indian Hindu minority "curtailing their human rights, including the freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.

"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 chairman Michael Cromartie.

At least 8,000 ethnic Indians protested in the streets of Kuala Lumpur about two weeks ago to highlight racial and religious discrimination by the Muslim Malay-dominated government of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

The Hindu Rights Action Task Force, a Malaysian rights group which organized the rally, claimed one temple was being demolished every three weeks.

Police dispersed the crowd with water cannons and tear gas, and witnesses said some demonstrators were beaten with batons.

Abdullah accused ethnic Indian activists of stirring up racial conflict and threatened to use a draconian law to detain protestors indefinitely without trial.

The US commission, a non-partisan panel appointed by the US president and leaders of Congress, noted that in late October, Malaysian authorities demolished a 100-year-old temple and reportedly assaulted its chief priest.

Just this week, another temple in Malacca state was demolished by local authorities despite having received a "stay order" from state officials, the commission said.

It asked the Bush administration to get an assurance from the Malaysian authorities that no charges would be filed against the organizers of the demonstrations.

"Malaysia should ensure that internationally protected rights to peaceful assembly, expression, and freedom of thought, conscience, and religion are protected," it said.

The commission also said that Kuala Lumpur's Islamic courts have expanded their jurisdiction in recent years, threatening secular Malaysia's civil courts and the country's commitment to religious pluralism.

"Because the (Malaysian) constitution deems that all Malays are Muslim, the sharia courts have weighed in on a number of high-profile cases involving conversion, marriage, divorce, child custody, and burial rights of non-Muslims," it said

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