KUALA LUMPUR • Forty-eight Malaysian civil groups yesterday expressed solidarity with a spokesman for a group that represents 25 retired senior Malay civil servants, after the government started a probe on her for calling for a review on regulations for Islamic offences in the country such as for khalwat.
The spokesman for the Group of 25 (G25), Datuk Noor Farida Ariffin, had also been subjected to sexual threats.
The G25 informal band of former civil servants is seen as expressing a "liberal view" of Islam in the increasingly politicised debate on the role of religion in Malaysia. Among the G25's members are former secretaries-general at ministries, directors-general, ambassadors and prominent Malay individuals.
"We call on the parties to have a rational, reasonable and civilised discussion and state their opinions courteously," the 48 non-governmental groups (NGOs) said in a statement on Thursday.
"This would benefit the country more than calling for G25 to be banned or threatening to commit acts of violence against them," the statement added.
The 48 groups included All Women's Action Society, Bersih 2.0 electoral reform group and National Human Rights Society.
The G25 has asked the government to start an open discussion on the application of Islamic laws in Malaysia, which have alienated non-Muslims as well as raised concerns about privacy and moral policing among Muslims.
One of these offences is for khalwat, close proximity between an unmarried couple, with the couple often charged in Islamic courts.
But the call for discussion on Islamic issues has to face up against Malaysia's influential bank of Islamic civil servants in such institutions as Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (Jakim), who are pushing for more conservative laws.
The G25 last week defended its call for Islamic regulations on such issues as khalwat to be relooked, saying it forms part of the concern that "religious bodies seem to be asserting authority beyond their jurisdiction".
It said: "These developments undermine Malaysia's commitment to democratic principles and the rule of law, breed intolerance and bigotry, and have heightened anxieties over national peace and stability."
Madam Noor Farida, a former ambassador to the Netherlands, was recently threatened with rape in a Facebook post for the group's stand. The 48 NGOs who backed her has called on "the authorities and leaders of ruling coalition to speak out and condemn threats made against G25".
"It is important for them to protect freedom of speech and all civil society organisations without distinction," said the group.
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK