Malaysia court charges 6 Muslims with sedition for parading cow head to protest Hindu temple

By Eileen Ng, AP
Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Malaysia court charges 6 Muslims with sedition

SHAH ALAM, Malaysia — A Malaysian court charged six Muslims with sedition Wednesday for parading a severed cow head to protest the construction of a Hindu temple in a case that has stoked religious and racial tensions in this multiethnic country.

The six also were expected to be charged — along with six others — with illegal assembly later Wednesday.

The 12 were among a large group of people who had marched from a mosque in Shah Alam, the capital of Selangor state, to the state chief minister’s office on Aug. 28 with the bloodied cow head. The cow is the most sacred animal in Hinduism.

They stopped at the gates of the office where they stomped and spat on the cow head after listening to fiery speeches by their leader. Their actions were recorded on video, and the footage was uploaded onto the Internet.

The protest deeply offended Hindus and stoked tensions among Malaysia’s main ethnic groups — the Malay Muslim majority and Chinese and Indian minorities. Indians are mostly Hindus.

Many of the protesters were residents of Section 23 neighborhood in Shah Alam, a largely Malay Muslim area where the state government had planned to build a temple. Many residents opposed the proposed temple.

The Shah Alam Sessions Court charged the six then freed them on bail pending trial, for which no date has been set. Sedition, described as promoting ill will and hostility between different races, is punishable by up to three years in jail and a fine.

Defense lawyer Salehuddin Saldin said his clients did not intend to offend Hindus, and carried the cow head only as a symbol of the state government’s “stupidity.”

“It is not a serious offense. If you look at the Malay culture, the cow is synonymous to stupidity and not meant to insult other religions,” he said.

State authorities in Selangor later said they have found a new site in Shah Alam to build the temple, a few hundred yards (meters) away from the original site.

The conflict highlighted frustrations among religious minorities about strict guidelines that restrict the number of non-Muslim places of worship, partly based on whether enough people of the non-Muslim faith live in the area where the church or temple is to built.

Many Malaysians, including Muslims, have criticized police for standing by and not stopping the protesters. They have also criticized the government for moving slowly to crack down on protesters in contrast to the alacrity with which other anti-government demonstrators are arrested and charged.

The protesters insist the temple could generate excessive noise and traffic, disrupting their concentration during prayers.

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