Malaysia accused of shocking human rights violations, abuses against Shiite minority

Malaysian police force charging at a crowd of protesters.
Malaysian police force charging at a crowd of protesters.

WASHINGTON, April 7, 2014 – Malaysia has a serious human rights problem, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), which released a 100+ page report entitled “No Answers, No Apologies” detailing abuses by Malaysian authorities. The report comes on the heels of accounts that Malaysia arrested infants from the country’s minority Shiite Muslim sect, based upon the “crime” of engaging in Shiite religious practices.

International attention has been given to Malaysia after Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 went missing last month, and human rights watchdogs welcome the focus.

“Unjustified shootings, mistreatment and deaths in custody, and excessive use of force in dispersing public assemblies persist because of an absence of meaningful accountability for Malaysia’s police force, the Royal Malaysia Police (RMP),” says the HRW report.

The human rights abuses are directed at all sectors of Malaysian society, however significant media attention has been drawn towards the plight of Shia Muslims in Malaysia, who are facing increased discrimination on a daily basis.

“Among the marginalized in Malaysia, there is a single group perhaps more marginalized than many. They are the people that Malaysia has forgotten. They are the Shiite Muslims” says Loyar Burok, a popular Malaysian blog. The article is entitled “Shiite Muslims in Malaysia: A Cultural Genocide.”

The issue of anti Shia human rights abuses is slowly becoming endemic to the country’s populace. On Reddit, on a discussion of human rights abuses in Malaysia, one user wrote “In Malaysia, Shia is considered deviant […] You also not allowed to form a group to practice your faith. Yes we are stern in protecting our faith and our children faith and to keep it pure from innovation. Regarding Allah words, it was the right move, because there were underground movement to spread confusion among muslim youth in the country.”

When questioned about the morality of the behavior of the Malaysian government, the same user replied with a horrific account of conditions in Malaysia: “They were not oppressed, most probably they would end up in rehabilitation center to correct their faith.”

Last summer, government officials in the Malaysian state of Kedah announced their intention to curb Syiah (the Malaysian word for Shia Muslim) practices, authorities view as illegitimate. Malaysian media reported that elected officials said “When the fatwa is [announced], it will be enforced immediately to ensure Muslims do not deviate from the true teachings of Islam.”

The same official also expressed an interest in preventing Shia Muslims from exercising their funeral rights, and Free Malaysia Today reports he said “It is contrary to our usual practice as a Sunni Muslim. So, this is one of the things that is happening and we will try to avoid it from spreading.”

Malaysia’s “The Sun Daily” reported that a nearby state, Pahang, also banned Shia teachings “because [Shia] teachings are different.”

The national government later also banned all Shiite teachings, “All states have agreed that Syiah teachings should not be allowed in the country” said Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom, a minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, according to the Sun. Earlier this year, an Imam was arrested and imprisoned for possessing books on Shiite teachings. In a startling incident, the deputy president of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party was obligated to prove he had no ties to Shia Muslims, after he was accused of making positive remarks about Shia individuals.

Another government official complained that more was not being done to combat the religious belief set. “Since the Syiah was gazetted as illegal by the National Fatwa Council in 1984 and 1997, not much enforcement was done,” said Home Ministry Security and Public Order assistant secretary Zamihan Md Zain Al-Ghari according to the Sun.

Other Malaysian media was quoted as saying “Those who practice [sic] Syiah will be severely dealt with, regardness [sic] of status or political ideology, and will not be accepted in the country.”

The campaign has not gone unnoticed by Middle Eastern countries and business leaders.

“An unofficial boycott of Malaysian goods by Iranian businessmen has left rubber products worth some RM2 million lying in a warehouse in the Middle East nation, a backlash against Umno’s recent anti-Shia campaign,” reported The Malaysian Insider.

“Since the anti-Shia campaign in Malaysia last year, Iranian businessmen refused to buy Malaysian-made products,” said one individual to the paper.

Malaysian leaders have refused to back down in the face of economic ruin, and Mufti Datuk Wan Zahidi Wan Teh told the Malaysian paper Berita Harian that “Shiism could be regarded as a ‘poison’ that can destroy the harmony and security of the country.”

The Mufti made the remarks at a conference held in Malaysia’s capital entitled “Facing the Shiite Virus.”

The Human Rights Report features a 7 page section on recommendations the country can take to halt police abuses, however stopped shy of recommendations on other pervasive human rights abuses.

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Rahat Husain
Rahat Husain has been working as a columnist since 2013 when he joined the Communities. With an interest in America and Islam, Rahat is a prolific writer on contemporary and international issues. In addition to writing for the Communities, Rahat Husain is an Attorney based in the Washington DC Metropolitan area. He is the Director of Legal and Policy Affairs at UMAA Advocacy. For the past six years, Mr. Husain has worked with Congressmen, Senators, federal agencies, think tanks, NGOs, policy institutes, and academic experts to advocate on behalf of Shia Muslim issues, both political and humanitarian. UMAA hosts one of the largest gatherings of Shia Ithna Asheri Muslims in North America at its annual convention.