Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews) - Person or persons unknown desecrated eight gravestones in a Christian cemetery in Tanjung Api, near Kuantan, capital of Kuantan District, in Malaysia's Pahang State.
The attack was discovered this morning, when a cemetery employee found some damaged graves (pictured).
It is likely to fuel sectarian tensions in the Asian country, where Catholics and Muslims are already at loggerheads over the use of the word Allah for the Christian God, something that is currently before the courts.
Local witnesses said that some gravestones were completely smashed, and some crosses were broken. Flowerpots and other stone markers were also broken. It seems that perpetrators used a heavy tool to do the damage.
A cemetery administrator, who reported the incident to the police, now hopes the vandals will be brought to justice.
Tanjung Api cemetery covers an area of 1.5 acres state land and has been used by 36 Christian communities in Kuantan since 1997.
Although there is no actual evidence, sources told AsiaNews that the incident is probably linked to anti-Church banners and firebombs in late January.
"The area is accessible to everyone, all day, through a small door," said Kuantan Tanjung Api Christian Cemetery Committee chairperson Datuk Jack How. "In all these years, we have never had any problems of this kind. Our guess is this occurred recently."
The cemetery attack is the latest in a series of incidents against the Catholic community in Malaysia, where religious tensions have been on the rise.
Tensions are due to a confrontation between a Catholic weekly, the Malaysia Herald, its director Fr Andrew Lawrence, and the government over the use of the word Allah by non-Muslims.
In October, the Court of Appeal ruled that the Catholic weekly could not use the word Allah for the Christian God. The paper's director appealed the decision, and a hearing is scheduled for 5 March.
"The priority today is to contain tensions," said local senior Church leaders, who asked to remain anonymous. Things should become calm and quiet again, they insisted. "There is still much to do," they added, given how delicate the situation is.
On the one hand, the goal is to protect the rights of the minority in court; on the other hand, everyone wants peaceful coexistence between the country's various ethnic groups.
The nation of over 28 million people has a Muslim majority (60 per cent). Christians are the third largest religious group after Buddhists, with more than 2.6 million members
A Malay-Latin dictionary published 400 years ago shows that the term 'Allah' was used in the local language to refer to the Biblical God centuries ago.