International parliamentarians visit Malaysia to discuss freedom of religion or belief

General Press Releases Friday January 11, 2019 18:59
Bangkok--11 Jan--ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights

Today, a delegation of lawmakers from Southeast Asia and beyond concluded a fact-finding mission to Malaysia to assess the situation around freedom of religion or belief (FoRB), and how the climate has changed since the new Pakatan Harapan government took office last year.

The fact-finding mission, which was jointly organized by ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) and the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief (IPPFoRB), took place on 9-11 January and included meetings with faith leaders, civil society, affected communities, parliamentarians, and government officials to assess Malaysia's religious freedom situation.

"We were delighted to have the opportunity to visit Malaysia and hear from a range of actors about their experiences in this complex, multi-ethnic and multi-religious country. The challenges we saw in Malaysia are in many ways similar to those in our own countries, and we look forward to working together to jointly promote freedom of religion or belief everywhere," said APHR member Lena Maryana, a member of the Indonesian Parliament, who led the delegation.

Apart from Lena Maryana, the delegation consisted of Maman Imanulhaq (former MP, Indonesia), Kyaw Min San (regional MP, Myanmar), Saranda Bogujevci (MP, Kosovo) and Halima Daud (former MP, Malawi).

The mission was timed in order to assess the landscape for religious freedom in Malaysia following the victory of the Pakatan Harapan coalition in the general election in May 2018. The new government took office on the back of commitments to improve the human rights situation, including by repealing repressive laws and working to combat discrimination.

The international parliamentarians were able to assess a range of concerns related to FoRB during the mission, including how increasing politicization of religion has become a worrying trend, and how discrimination continues in both law and practice against different religious groups.

The delegation also learned how Malaysia's dual legal system – civil law and Shari'a law – has created jurisdictional tensions, particularly in family-related matters.

"The new Malaysian government has a unique opportunity to build on its commitments to improve human rights across the country, including when it comes to religious freedom. This is the time to promote inter-faith dialogue between communities to increase understanding and build mutual trust," said Maman Imanulhaq.

During a session in the Malaysian parliament, the delegation attended the launch of a new toolkit on FoRB for parliamentarians in Asia, a joint initiative by APHR and IPPFoRB. The toolkit provides lawmakers across the region with a range of resources – including background reports, advocacy overviews, and practical guidelines – to equip them to build a society where everyone's freedom of religion is respected.

"As parliamentarians, we all have a duty to promote a culture of tolerance for all faiths, political opinions and backgrounds. All countries – whether in Europe or in Southeast Asia – struggle with similar challenges. This is why fact-finding missions like the one we have just concluded are so crucial in promoting cross-border alliances between MPs who all work towards the same goals," said Saranda Bogujevci.

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