KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 8 ― Malaysia has been rated as “grave violators” of the rights and treatment of the non-religious in this year’s Freedom of Thought Report by the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU).
The country joins Muslim-majority neighbours Indonesia and Brunei, which were similarly ranked as the worst offenders in the Southeast Asian region.
“Malaysia rates very badly for freedom of thought and expression, with ethnic Malays subjected to strict state controls over an enforced, homogenous religious identity, including mandatory Shariah laws, and in two states hudud enactments mandating death for ‘apostasy’,” said the report published this week.
In March 2015, Kelantan passed the amendment to its so-called hudud law, the Syariah Criminal Code (II) Enactment (Kelantan) 1993 which prescribed jail for an apostate to repent, and execution if repentance is impossible.
Terengganu has a similar law passed in 2002: the Syariah Criminal Offences (Hudud and Qisas) Enactment.
At the moment, Shariah courts cannot impose death penalty due to the limitations of sentences it can mete out in the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965, the law which Islamist party PAS and the ruling party Umno are aiming to amend.
Malaysia was given a score of 4 for the “constitution and government” and “education and children’s rights” categories, and 5 for “family, community, society, religious courts and tribunals” and “freedom of expression advocacy of humanist values”.
The report highlighted that it is illegal to advocate secularism or church-state separation in Malaysia, or such advocacy is suppressed; while identifying as an atheist or non-religious is either illegal or unrecognised.
It also claimed that government figures or state agencies openly marginalise, harass, or incite hatred or violence against the non-religious.
Overall, Malaysia scored 4.5, with 5 being the worst possible score. In comparison, Indonesia also scored 4.5, but Brunei scored 4.75.
Cambodia, Singapore, the Philippines, and Timor-Leste had the highest scores of 3 in the region.
The report this year found that “the overwhelming majority of countries fail to respect the rights of humanists, atheists and the non-religious”, where in the worst cases, non-religious can be executed simply for leaving the religion of their parents.
The report also singled out Malaysia among the 12 countries where “apostasy” is punishable by death, along with Afghanistan, Iran, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
Starting out in 2012, the report was prepared from submissions received from experts, relevant parties, and members of IHEU, a worldwide umbrella of humanist, atheist, secular and similar organisations.