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Malaysia Bans Mainstream Media from Reporting on Islamic State Debate

ICC Note: Malaysia ’s Deputy Prime Minister recently claim that the country is an Islamic state, even though the constitution declares it to be secular. This occurred shortly after the Supreme Court decided that Muslims could not change their religion on their Government ID card. Intense debate continues, though the government has disallowed the media from participating.

By Julia Zappei
7/22/07 Malaysia (Irrawaddy) – Malaysia ‘s government has banned the mainstream media from reporting o­n the highly sensitive issue of whether the country is an Islamic state, an official said Friday.

Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak sparked a storm last week when he declared that mostly Muslim Malaysia was not secular but an Islamic state that protects the religious rights of minority groups.

Government leaders, opposition parties, lawyers and activists have condemned Najib’s comment, saying Malaysia was set up as a secular state by the country’s first leaders after independence from Britain in 1957…

“We want to stop this issue being aggravated into becoming a public debate as this will create tension,” he told The Associated Press. “This is a very sensitive issue… As far as possible, we want to prevent (any racial) tension.”

The official said the media are allowed to publish comments by Najib and Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi but statements from anyone else should be disregarded.

“This debate will be never ending,” he said, adding that the ban was “for the sake of peace and harmony…”

Opposition leader Lim Kit Siang slammed the government ban, describing it as the “gravest blow to press freedom” since Abdullah took over as premier in late 2003…

The controversy arose amid a recent string of religious disputes that have ended in favor of Muslims—who comprise nearly 60 percent of the population—and strained ethnic relations in the multicultural nation, which has enjoyed racial peace for nearly four decades….

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