Malaysia: Ministry bans Islamic state debate in media

The Internal Security Ministry has confirmed that they have given a directive to all mainstream media not to publish any news on the issue of Malaysia being an Islamic state.
Internal Security Ministry’s Publications Control and Al-Quran Texts Unit senior officer Che Din Yusof told Malaysiakini that they are afraid that allowing such discussions would cause “tension”.
“Yes we have given the directive to all mainstream newspapers. Islam is a sensitive issue. They cannot publish any news on whether the country is secular or Islam. “Stop harping on this. The debate would never end,” he asserted when contacted today. However, he said newpapers can still publish statements from Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and his deputy Najib Abdul Razak on the country being an Islamic state.

On Tuesday, Najib said Malaysia is an Islamic state and not a secular one while carefully assuring members of minority faiths that their rights will be protected. He said the mainly-Muslim Malaysia has never been a secular nation as the government has always been driven by the fundamentals of Islam.

“Islam is the official religion and we are an Islamic state," Najib told reporters after he opened an international conference on the role of Islamic states. “But as an Islamic state, it does not mean that we don't respect the non-Muslims. The Muslims and the non-Muslims have their own rights,” he was quoted saying.

His comments have since drawn protests from the Opposition, civil society groups and MCA.

Che Din pointed out that while the two top leaders of the country can make such statements, any reactions from political parties and the public will not be allowed to be published. “Reaction from political parties and the public cannot be published especially the negative reactions,” he said.

Several journalists and editors were contacted and they confirmed that they will adhere to the instruction. Some of the editors also noted that they have already retracted some commentary on this issue from their newspapers. Deputy Internal Security Minister Fu Ah Kiow could not be reached for further comments and clarification.

Responding to Najib's statement, MCA yesterday said that historical facts and documents showed that Malaysia was a secular state. MCA Secretary General Ong Ka Chuan yesterday issued a statement stating that documents prepared by the British authorities before granting independence to Malaysia in 1957 clearly stipulated that “the members of the Alliance delegation...had no intention of creating a Muslim theocracy and that Malaya would be a secular state”. “This was the consensus and social contract agreed upon by our forefathers,” he said.

Today PKR de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim also lambasted Najib over his remark, calling it as "exposing his (Najib’s) dismal ignorance" of what an Islamic state was all about.

He said Najib's statement was calculated for political mileage.

By: Ng Ling Fong & Soon Li Tsin (Malaysiakini)

19 July 2007