Thirty Malaysian civil societies of different faiths have called on Putrajaya to voice its opposition and concern to the Brunei government for criminalising public Christmas celebrations.
The societies, which include Christian as well as Muslim groups, said Brunei’s ban on public celebrations of Christmas violated Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
They said the ban also affected Malaysian citizens in Brunei, and went against Islamic principles of tolerance and respect for religious freedom.
“We urge the federal government of Malaysia and the state governments of Sabah and Sarawak to register their strongest protest and grave concern to the Brunei government,” the civil societies said in a statement yesterday.
The groups said celebrations of any faith were not synonymous with proselytisation and called the ban “unwarranted religious repression”.
“If Malaysia gives passive consent to such religious persecution of non-Muslims under the flimsy pretext of respecting national sovereignty, then Malaysia forfeits the moral high ground to speak up against similar religious repression of Muslims elsewhere in the world.”
They added that the criminalisation was hostile and offensive to Malaysia, given that it was also imposed on Malaysians working, residing or travelling in Brunei. Offenders may be jailed up to five years for observing such celebrations.
“Until the criminalisation is lifted, the Malaysian High Commission must be prepared to provide legal and political support for all Malaysians prosecuted for exercising their religious freedom.”
The groups also warned that the ban would fuel Islamaphobia and portray Islam as a religion of intolerance and repression.
“Brunei should instead show the world that Islam stands for inclusivity and justice and fairness.”
The statement was endorsed by Angkatan Warga Aman Malaysia (WargaAMAN), Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM), Council of Churches Malaysia (CCM), ENGAGE, Federation of Malaysian Indian Organisation (Prima), Gerakan Reformasi Anak Muda Sarawak (Gerak), Institute for Development of Alternative Living (IDEAL), Komuniti Muslim Universal (KMU and Kuala Lumpur & Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (KLSCAH).
Other signatories are the LLG Cultural Development Centre (LLG), Malaysian Indians Transformation Action Team (Mitra), Malaysian Indians Progressive Association (Mipas), Malaysian Youth Care Association (Prihatin), Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (MADPET), Malaysia Youth & Students Democratic Movement (DEMA), National Indian Rights Action Team (NIAT), Negeri Sembilan Chinese Assembly Hall (NSCAH), Oriental Hearts and Mind Study Institute (OHMSI), Persatuan Aliran Kesedaran Negara (Aliran), Persatuan Masyarakat Selangor & Wilayah Persekutuan (Permas).
Persatuan Promosi Hak Asasi Malaysia (Proham), Persatuan Rapat Malaysia (Rapat), Peoples Service Organisation (PSO), Projek Dialog, Rise of Sarawak Efforts (R.O.S.E.), Sabah Women’s Action-Resources Group (SAWO), Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (SADIA HQ), Sisters in Islam (SIS), Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) and Writer Alliance for Media Independence (WAMI) also endorsed the statement.
Brunei banned public celebrations of Christmas out of fear of Muslims being led astray, its religious affairs ministry said on January 8.
The ban was instituted after Christmas last year, when local children and adults were seen wearing clothing resembling Santa Claus, AFP reported.
Christians in the oil-rich sultanate are free to celebrate their religion, but have been told not to do so “excessively and openly”. – December 25, 2015.