KUALA LUMPUR, April 14 — Malaysia continues to strictly control religious practices, with an annual study grouping it together with other Muslim-majority countries practising “very high” restrictions, such as Saudi Arabia, Brunei, and Turkey.
The study, published on Tuesday by US-based think tank Pew Research Centre, found that Malaysia’s religious controls worsened in 2015, scoring 8.0 out of 10 points on the Government Restriction Index (GRI) compared to 7.0 the previous year.
Topping the 2015 list was Egypt, China, Iran and Russia, followed by Uzbekistan and Malaysia which shared the same score.
A total of 198 countries were surveyed in the study.
Pew said government restrictions on religion and social hostilities involving religion increased in 2015; the first time it has done so in three years.
“The increase in government restrictions was linked to a surge in government harassment and use of force against religious groups, two of the specific indicators used to measure government restrictions on religion in the analysis,” said the report, referring to the global situation.
The GRI comprises 20 measures of restrictions, including efforts by government to ban particular faiths, prohibit conversion, limit preaching or giving preferential treatment to one or more religious groups.
Malaysia was also placed in the “high” group on the Social Hostilities Index, which measures acts of religious hostility by private individuals, organisations or groups in society.
The two indices were based on international reports on religious freedom from the United States, European and United Nation bodies, and independent NGOs across the world.
Muslims make up 61.3 per cent of the Malaysian population, followed by Buddhists at 19.8 per cent, and Christians at 9.2 per cent, according to the latest census data from 2010.
In Malaysia, only the Sunni denomination of Islam and its Shafie school of jurisprudence are considered official.
Racial and religious discontent peaked recently over a motion seeking to let Shariah courts mete out harsher punishments, in addition to Muslims’ opposition to a proposal to ban unilateral child conversion, and outlaw child marriages.
Also, there are laws prohibiting the proselytisation of non-Islamic faiths to Muslims, but not vice versa.