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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 March, 2005, 05:17 GMT
Malaysians condemn 'state spying'
By Jonathan Kent
BBC News, Kuala Lumpur

People walk near Kuala Lumpur's Petronas Twin Towers
Many Malaysians say the state should regulate their private lives
Campaigning groups in Malaysia are asking their government to put a stop to what they are calling "state snooping" into people's private lives.

A statement by some 50 human rights, labour and women's groups calls for private lives to be just that.

The move follows attempts by a leading government politician to encourage young people to spy on Muslim couples.

Dozens of people have been arrested recently for visiting night clubs or even holding hands.

The protesters say the issue has been brought to a head by recent events.

In one incident in January, dozens of young Muslim women were allegedly sexually harassed by Islamic Department officers after being detained during a raid on a fashionable nightclub.

The chief minister of Malacca, who is the vice-president in the prime minister's party, has angered liberals by encouraging members of a local youth movement to spy.

The protesters also want laws abolished that infringe citizens' rights to privacy, freedom of speech and expression.

Moral conservatism

However, there are plenty of groups here who will oppose any attempt to limit the state's power to regulate the private lives of citizens.

Many Malaysian Muslims believe that all followers of Islam should be strictly subject to religious law.

They are backed by the conservative Islamic opposition party (PAS), and by sections of the government.

However, the issue is further complicated by fears that Malaysia's growing moral conservatism may be imposed on non-Muslims.

That could threaten the delicate balance between the country's races and religious groups that has kept the peace here for more than 30 years.

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