PETALING JAYA: The UN special rapporteur in the field of cultural rights Karima Bennoune has revealed that while the Malaysian government has voiced its rejection of Islamic fundamentalism and extremism, there was concern over perceived contradictions.
In a report on her preliminary observations during a visit to Malaysia from Sept 11 to 21, Karima Bennoune reported on some of these contradictions as told to her by the different sectors of Malaysian society whom she met.
“They expressed concern that the contradiction to these stated commitments was part of the growing Islamisation of Malaysian society and polity based on an increasingly rigid and fundamentalist interpretation of Islam,” Bennoune said.
“It is critical to ask what accounts for this striking discrepancy between rhetoric and lived reality recounted by many and what its consequences are for the enjoyment of cultural rights.”
Bennoune said she had also heard reports of the difficulties human rights defenders and others face when they try to challenge fundamentalism, defend the diversities of Muslim culture and the promote cultural rights.
“While Malaysian civil societies are normally outspoken, several individuals declined to meet with me to discuss these particular issues reportedly out of fear of reprisals.
“Author Faisal Tehrani, six of whose books have been banned, said that booksellers are afraid to sell his other books due to the chilling effect of the bans.
“He has repeatedly received threats, has been accosted and insulted in public and so has a member of his family.”
Bennoune was especially concerned over the government’s consideration towards the private member’s bill by PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang, that calls for enhancing the punishments that can be imposed by shariah courts.
“Such punishments pose a threat to human rights in the country and are difficult to rationalise with the government’s commitment towards moderation and progressiveness,” Bennoune said.
She regretted the fact that some authorities she spoke to clearly supported the enhancement.
“I was also surprised when a Kelantan state government official told me that there is only one way to be a Muslim and any other form of practice was based on ignorance.”
Referring to several abduction cases reportedly targeting those of religious minorities, including Pastor Raymond Koh who has been missing since being abducted in February this year, Bennoune said it could be considered “extremist violence”.
She especially deplored the fatwa against Sisters In Islam (SIS), which she said compromised their important work including protecting the rights of women.
“It has led to the cancellation of their events and made it harder for them to organise such events due to the stigma, let alone the increasing threats and online harassment of SiS activists.”