KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - Four Finns have been arrested on a holiday island in Muslim-majority Malaysia for allegedly distributing pamphlets about Christianity, police said on Wednesday (Nov 21), and may face up to five years in jail.
Religion is a deeply sensitive issue in Malaysia, where more than 60 per cent of the population is Muslim, and critics say rising conservatism has chipped away at a traditionally tolerant brand of Islam in recent years.
The authorities detained the two men and two women on Tuesday after receiving complaints from members of the public that they were handing out Christian materials on the popular resort island of Langkawi, said local police chief Mohamad Iqbal Ibrahim.
"Police have arrested four Finnish nationals in Langkawi for allegedly distributing religious material in a public place," he told AFP.
"They were distributing pamphlets related to Christianity."
The Finns, aged between 27 and 60, were arrested at a hotel, and police seized pens, notebooks and a bag.
They are accused of breaking laws that forbid people from disturbing religious harmony. If found guilty, they could be jailed for between two and five years.
The suspects have been remanded in custody while police investigate.
Langkawi, a jungle-clad island in north-west Malaysia, attracts millions of tourists to its palm-fringed beaches every year.
Malaysia, home to about 32 million people, has sizeable ethnic Chinese and Indian communities who have long complained about rising Islamisation.
In 2010, three churches were attacked with firebombs, causing major damage to one, as Muslims sought to prevent Christians from using the word "Allah".
Issues related to race, religion and language are considered sensitive in Malaysia, which witnessed deadly riots between members of the majority Malay community and ethnic Chinese in 1969.