We, the undersigned Malaysian civil society groups, call upon the Brunei government to lift its criminalisation of Christmas and other non-Muslim religious celebrations under which offenders may be jailed up to five years for observing such celebrations.
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 on the following grounds:
- Such criminalisation is an outright violation of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which not only guarantees freedom of religion but also the freedom to teach, practise, worship and observe one’s religion in the public or private sphere. Celebration of a faith is not proselytising it to the followers of other faiths. Such unwarranted religious repression should not be tolerated by Asean countries. 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.
- Such criminalisation severely affects the inalienable rights of citizens of Malaysia working, residing or travelling in Brunei, including a significant number of Sabahans and Sarawakians, due to the geographical proximity and close economic ties. Such criminalisation is definitely hostile and offensive to Malaysia, especially Sabah and Sarawak, Brunei’s closest neighbours. 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.
- Such criminalisation goes against the declared tenets of Islam proclaiming Islam’s upholding of tolerance and respect for religious freedom. Instead of enhancing the image of Islam, it will only fuel Islamophobia and aid anti-Islam politicians in Europe and the United States in portraying Islam as a religion of intolerance and repression. Brunei should instead show the world that Islam stands for inclusivity and justice and fairness is what Islam is all about.
Background to the criminalisation of non-Muslim celebrations
While the latest statement by the ministry of religious affairs made clear that those sending festive greetings or wearing Santa hats may be punished with punishment of up to five years imprisonment, the ban itself started earlier and covers all non-Muslim religious celebrations.
After ordering several business outlets to remove Christmas decorations, the ministry issued a statement on 27 December 2014 which stated that the public celebration of non-Muslim festivals constitute “propagations of religions other than Islam”, which is not permitted in a state governed by Sharia. On January 2015, the ministry confirmed that future public celebrations of Christmas are banned, while private celebrations are off limits to Muslims.
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In keeping with this ruling, in February 2015, the authorities in Brunei also forbade the public celebration of Chinese New Year and limited lion dance troupe performances to just three days and restricted the performances to temples, school halls and residences of Chinese association members.
This statement is endorsed by the following civil society organisations:
- Angkatan Warga Aman Malaysia (WargaAMAN)
- Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM)
- Council of Churches Malaysia (CCM)
- Federation of Malaysian Indian Organisation (Prima)
- Gerakan Reformasi Anak Muda Sarawak (Gerak)
- Institute for Development of Alternative Living (Ideal)
- Komuniti Muslim Universal (KMU)
- Kuala Lumpur & Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (KLSCAH)
- 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 and 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 dan Wilayah Persekutuan (Permas)
- Persatuan Promosi Hak Asasi Malaysia (Proham)
- Persatuan Rapat Malaysia (Rapat)
- Peoples Service Organization (PSO)
- Projek Dialog
- Rise of Sarawak Efforts (Rose)
- Sabah Women’s Action-Resources Group (Sawo)
- Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (Sadia HQ)
- Sisters in Islam (Sis)
- Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram)
- Writers Alliance for Media Independence (Wami)