Dec 17, 2006

Malaysia's Anwar: Government stifling non-Muslims' rights

While the only report on BERNAMA is that Anwar is contesting for the next election.

PETALING JAYA, Dec 17 (Bernama) -- Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) advisor Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim will contest in the next general election if it is held in 2008.

Confirming this today, the former deputy prime minister said his intention to contest was his right.

"It is the right that the court tried to take away from me," he told reporters before attending a forum entitled "An Intra Muslim Roundtable Dialogue" jointly hosted by PKR and Frederich Nauman Stiftung Foundation.

Anwar, however, did not say whether he would contest under the opposition ticket.

Anwar, who served a six-year jail term for corruption and sodomy, was released in September 2004. Anwar, for the first time last month, made known his intention to contest in the next general election.

Under the country's laws, a person, who had served a jail term, is not allowed to be active in politics for five years after his release.

here is another full report from IHT.

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on Sunday accused the government of stifling non-Muslims' rights, as his party declared it has begun preparing for the next general elections.

Anwar, a former deputy prime minister and an ex-stalwart of the ruling party, also said Malaysia's majority Muslims feel their own rights are threatened by greater clamor among minorities for protection of their rights.

"The worrying thing is the Muslims feel their position and their power in religious discourse is eroding. The non-Muslims feel they are being marginalized and discriminated against," said Anwar, the adviser to the opposition People's Justice Party headed by his wife, Azizah Ismail.

"We have come to a stage where it is considered unhealthy. The debate over ... religious issues has been contentious. There is a lot of unhappiness," Anwar said at a news conference during a dialogue his party hosted to discuss Islam's role in Muslim-majority Malaysia.

Anwar's backing of the minorities appears aimed at expanding the support base of his party — which has its roots among Malay Muslims — ahead of the next general elections, which must be held before 2009.

Azizah told reporters the party is already in election mode. "The mood is with us on the ground," she said, adding that there is a negative feeling against the government.

Anwar was sacked as deputy prime minister in September 1998 following a fallout with then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad over economic policies. Anwar was arrested, tried for corruption and sodomy, and sentenced to a total of 15 years in prison.

He was released in September 2004 after he was acquitted of the sodomy conviction and finished serving the corruption sentence.

Anwar called for a cross-cultural dialogue to ease tensions in the multiracial country. He cited recent disputes over the faiths of two ethnic Indian men after their deaths.

Islamic authorities in both cases claimed the men had converted to Islam and should be buried as Muslims, despite arguments to the contrary by their families.

"I do appreciate the concern of non-Muslims," Anwar said. "The action by certain religious departments and offices backed by government authorities ... to deny the rights of non-Muslims ... and to deny open public discourse has exacerbated the problem."

In one case, an Islamic Shariah court allowed the Islamic Religious Affairs Department to bury Maniam Moorthy, a former Mount Everest climber, as a Muslim, ignoring his widow's insistence that he had never practiced Islam and had consistently celebrated Hindu holidays.

The other case was settled after Islamic authorities withdrew their claim over the body of Rayappan Anthony, an ethnic Indian Roman Catholic who had once converted to Islam, after his family proved he had returned to Christianity.

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