Text of a letter of March 14 from FCO Minister Jeremy Browne MP:
Thank you for your letter of 1 February, about religious intolerance against Shia Muslims in Malaysia.
Freedom of religion is enshrined in the Malaysian Constitution, albeit with some
limitations. Malaysia is a Federal state with a complex juridical system which includes the use of Shariah courts. In 1996 the Malaysian National Fatwa Council issued a Fatwa declaring Shfa to be a deviant sect. As this Council is under the Governments Islamic Advancement Department its decrees are de facto law. In December, the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (JAIS) arrested approximately 200 Shiite Muslims at a religious gathering, who were subsequently released on bail.
That Shiism is regarded as a deviant form of Islam and is banned in Malaysia remains a very difficult issue for many in Malaysia. Officials from the High Commission in Kuala Lumpur did not attend the first of the trials of the Malaysian Shfa Muslims you refer to in your letter, but we will consider attendance at further trials.
The EU is currently co-hosting a two day event discussing the issue of 'Religion in the
Public Space: Europe and Malaysia'. In February the EU held its first informal human
rights dialogue with Malaysia, and there are plans to continue this on a regular basis.
The issue of human rights and freedom of religion came up in the first round of talks for the EU-Malaysia Partnership and Co-operation Agreement. These ongoing processes illustrate that the issue of freedom of religion is firmly on the EUs agenda for engaging Malaysia, and that the UK with EU partners will continue to raise this issue when the opportunity arises.
The British Government and our High Commission in Kuala Lumpur regularly seek
appropriate opportunities to emphasise to the relevant authorities the importance we
attach to human rights issues including the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. We take every opportunity, including with our EU partners, to urge the
Government of Malaysia to pursue laws and practises which foster tolerance and mutual respect for all citizens of Malaysia.