KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 9 — The chief commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) has censured a federal minister for calling on the authorities to clamp down and prosecute Malay atheists.
Tan Sri Razali Ismail called the suggestion inflammatory, and said that Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim as a Cabinet member should have been more careful when addressing a highly sensitive issue.
“I don’t think a Cabinet Minister should have said that,” Razali told Malay Mail Online.
“He shouldn’t have made a statement that would invite emotional argument,” he added.
But despite the criticism, Razali did not make his position on the issue clear, nor did he wish to state if Suhakam was against the persecution of atheists.
When queried if the commission was of the view that atheism — or the right not to believe in religion — is a human right and therefore must be respected, Razali replied:
“We don’t want to make (things worse) than what it is we don’t want to say anything.
“Suhakam is studying the thing. But we really don’t want to say anything at the moment that doesn’t really help,” he said.
Yesterday Shahidan said atheists in Malaysia should be “hunted down” by the authorities, as there is no place for groups like these under the Federal Constitution.
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim said the public should aid the authorities in locating groups like the Kuala Lumpur chapter of Atheist Republic so that action could be taken.
“The (Federal Constitution) does not mention atheists. It goes against the Constitution and human rights.
“I suggest that we hunt them down vehemently and we ask for help to identify these groups,” he said in a press conference at Parliament today.
Human rights lawyers have responded critically to the view, saying that being an atheist in Malaysia does not contravene the Federal Constitution, The Sun reported today.
They said the freedom to follow a specific religion also protects the rights of an individual not to follow a belief system.
One of them, Bar Council’s Human Rights Committee co-chairman Andrew Khoo, was quoted saying the provision that guarantees freedom of religion under the Federal Constitution also guarantees the right of an individual not to believe in one.
Deputy minister in charge of Islamic affairs Datuk Dr Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki said yesterday Putrajaya will investigate the local group, even roping in the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, as it allegedly involved the faith of Muslims in the country.
Atheist Republic has over a million followers and supporters on social media, with hundreds of “consulates” worldwide including in neighbouring Indonesia and the Philippines.