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Christians Alarmed By Religious Police Controls

ICC Note:

Elderly married Christian couple is a target for Malaysia religious police, who stormed their apartment in the middle of the night to ask why they were sleeping together.

by Joseph Masilamany

AsiaNews (11/03/06) – The Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) has called on the government to take every measure necessary to protect citizens’ and tourists’ right to privacy against the intrusive actions of the religious police.

Non Muslim groups have expressed this concern after agents from Kedah State Religious Affairs Department stormed an apartment in the wee hours of the morning of October 22. The occupants, a couple of elderly Americans in their 60s, were asked why they were sleeping together and were told to produce their marriage certificate.

Randall and Carol Barnhart, who have been married for 42 years, told the agents that they were Christian and objected to the violation of their private life. Their protest however did not stop the intimidating behaviour of the officers.

Speaking to AsiaNews, a CFM member expressed his great concern over the incident. “Just recently our prime minister refuted allegations that Malaysia is a ‘police state’,” he said. But incidents such as this, and many more similar actions in the past by over-zealous religious vigilante groups, point to the contrary. Instead, “the incident has tarnished the country’s image and can damage tourism,” he noted.

The CFM is especially concerned that non-Muslims are now targets for harassment by state religious officers. For this reason, it has called on the Malaysian government to urgently take up the issue and adopt the necessary measures to protect people’s privacy.

The CFM also called on the Kedah State Religious Affairs Department to offer an official apology to the American couple and urged Malaysia ’s tourism department to reassure tourists and all Malaysians that they won’t be subjected to the religious police’s morality checks.