04/28/2005, 00.00
MALAYSIA
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Two Christians arrested for 'proselytising'

Former Premier Mahatir denies a fundamentalist threat exists in the country.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews) – Two American Christians were recently arrested on charges of proselytising. The incident occurred a few days after a controversy broke out over the distribution of Bibles in local languages. Important local politicians were quick to say there were no dangers that fundamentalism might develop in Malaysia.

The two Protestants from the US—Ricky Ruperd and Zachry Harris—were arrested for giving pamphlets with religious content to Muslims in Malaysia's new administrative capital, Putrajaya, 50 km south of Kuala Lumpur.

A spokesman for the local police said that a court ordered them held for 14 days for breaking the law. Under Malaysian law trying to convert a Muslim is an offence.

Two legal systems coexist in the country: a civil one that pertains to the federal constitution; a religious one that applies only to Muslims.

Recently, the government split over an issue related to religious freedom, namely the legality of Bibles published in two local languages: Bahasa Malaysia and in Bahasa Indonesia. For one minister, such Bibles were illegal; for another, they were not.

Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi said there was no ban on Bibles published in Malay languages as long as they carried the words "Not for Muslims".

In a meeting with former Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said there was danger that Islamic fundamentalism might prevail in Malaysia.

"This is a concern of a lot of people outside [the country], especially in European countries," Mahathir said, referring to the fact that Islamists are in power in Kelantan, a north-eastern state of the Malaysian federation.

"There is fear that Malaysia is on the verge of becoming an extremist Islamic state and that Islamists are going to overcome the rest of the population. But I don't think so. Malay Muslims are very rational," he stressed. (LF)

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