KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 10 — The government of Malaysia imposes "very high" restrictions on religion, an influential United States research group said yesterday.
The Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion and Life said that it was among 10 countries out of 198 studied with very high government restrictions as of mid-2009 including Egypt, Iran, China, Myanmar and Indonesia.
Other regional neighbours such as Thailand and Singapore were rated moderate in the report while Philippines was considered to have low government restrictions on religious freedom.
"Government restrictions also increased substantially in Malaysia, which, like Egypt, already had very high restrictions to begin with. Although the country's constitution recognises freedom of religion, Malaysia restricts the observance of Islamic beliefs and practices that do not conform to Sunni Islam," its report titled "Rising Restrictions on Religion" said.
It noted that Malaysia monitors more than 50 Muslim groups it considers unorthodox and in some instances sends people who practise "deviant" forms of Islam to religious "rehabilitation' centres."
The research centre cited the US State Department's 2009 International Religious Freedom report as saying that Malaysia "denies individuals the freedom to leave such centres until they complete the programme."
The report — which said that a third of the world is now under more religious restriction — did, however, score Malaysia as having "low" social hostilities involving religion.
However, religious tension has been simmering over the past few years, with places of worship being fire-bombed in early 2010 over a dispute — which is yet to be resolved — as to whether Christians may use the word Allah to refer to God.
Tensions between Muslims and Christians have continued to rise and was most ly marked by last week's raid by religious authorities on a church in Petaling Jaya, which now stands accused of trying to convert 12 Muslims who were attending a fundraising dinner.
The government also continues to restrict Muslim beliefs it considers deviant, including Shiites and Wahhabis. Its National Security Council recently called on state religious authorities to monitor and act against Wahhabism, putting several respected Muslim scholars on a terror watchlist.
The report also said that "during the three-year period covered by the study, the extent of violence and abuse related to religion increased in more places than it decreased," adding that only one per cent of the world lives in countries that saw more religious tolerance between mid-2006 to mid-2009.
The Pew Forum, which is one of seven that projects undertaken by the Pew Research Center, says on its website that it researches important aspects of religion and public life and provides a neutral venue for discussions of timely issues through roundtables and briefings.
The Washington-based research centre was established in 2004 and among notable figures linked to it are former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former US Ambassador to the United Nations John Danforth who chair its global attitudes project.--
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