06/21/2007, 00.00
MALAYSIA
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More than 500 people light ‘candles of hope’ for religious freedom

Vigil participants come from different religious background. They meet at the Dataran Merdeka in support of M Revathi, a Hindu woman torn away from her husband and child and forced into an Islamic “rehabilitation” centre. Banners call on the state to respect religious freedom and the right to love.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews) – More than 500 people from different religious backgrounds met Wednesday night for a candlelight vigil to protest against the continued detention of M Revathi, a Hindu woman sentenced to an Islamic rehabilitation centre. Participants lighted candles of hope for religious freedom and the right to love, carrying banners that said: ‘Secular is not anti-religion’ and ‘Stop breaking up families’.

Revathi’s parents are Indian. They converted to Islam before she war born. However, she claims to be Hindu and married a Hindu man in March 2004 in a Hindu wedding ceremony. The couple now has child.

Soon after, the Malacca Religious Department (Jaim) told her to get her faith officially recognised by the Malacca Syariah (Sharia) Court. However, her application was turned down in January and she sent to the Akidah Rehabilitation Centre in Ulu Yam, Selangor, for 100 days as required by law. Her sentence was extended by an additional 80 days because during that time she failed to show any signs of repentance.

The prayer vigil, which was held at the Dataran Merdeka, drew Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and members of other minority groups. Officials from the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) were also present.

“We are all here hopeful that the state may recognise and respect religious freedom as enshrined in the constitution,” said Meera Samanther, president of the Women's Aid Organisation.

In Malaysia two legal systems exist side by side: Sharia law and the secular constitution. But the two are often in conflict. For instance whilst the constitution guarantees religious freedom, Islamic law forbids Muslims to convert to other religions. More importantly, when the two clash, it is Sharia law that prevails and is imposed on all parties, including on non-Muslims.

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