- The Washington Times - Monday, April 17, 2006

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (Agence France-Presse) — Activists gathered at the capital’s city hall to protest laws that make kissing and hugging in public a crime, saying it showed the “Islamization” of the multicultural nation.

A dozen demonstrators led by the opposition Democratic Action Party’s (DAP) youth wing held hands and waved heart-shaped placards that read, “You have the right to kiss” and “Not guilty of hugging,” and a banner reading, “No to moral policing.”

The protest late last week was touched off by a court’s decision to authorize indecency charges against a young couple accused of kissing and hugging in a park by Kuala Lumpur’s iconic Twin Towers in August 2003.

Ooi Kean Thong, 24, and Siow Ai Wei, 22, said they received a summons when they refused to pay bribes to two city hall officials, who have denied the charges.

“We want to send a message that it is inappropriate for local government to be the moral police,” said DAP youth wing Deputy Chief Chong Chieng Jen. “The thing about morality is that it differs among different races and religions.

“It defies the spirit of our constitution and also freedom of religion. If we do not check the trend now, we are heading toward a real Islamic state or going backwards to the medieval time.”

The protesters issued a statement saying they opposed public indecency, but that the law is too vague and liable to abuse and local authorities should not enforce it.

“There should be a uniform law applicable throughout Malaysia stating clearly what amounts to indecency,” they said.

The protesters accused city authorities of applying Islamic or “Sharia” legal principles on both Muslims — who make up about 60 percent of Malaysia’s population — and the non-Muslim Chinese and Indian communities.

“This is a manifestation of Islamization of Malaysia without respecting the rights and freedom of the non-Muslims,” they said.

The Federal Court ruled that city hall could pursue indecency charges against the ethnic Chinese couple, saying kissing and hugging were not the norm for Malaysians or other Asians and were acceptable only by Western moral standards.

Malaysia’s Bar Council spoke out against the ruling, saying displays of affection are common here and that indecency charges should be applied only to maintain public order, and not because behavior had offended someone.

The couple are due to face the charges at city hall’s court in June. If convicted, they could be fined up to $540 or jailed for up to a year, or both.

Malaysia’s government promotes a moderate version of Islam, but the country has experienced a growing influence of Islam over society in the past two decades.

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