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Page last updated at 09:28 GMT, Wednesday, 15 July 2009 10:28 UK

Religious row flares in Malaysia

Christians light candles outside a church in Kuala Lumpur - file photo 25/12/2006
Religious freedom is guaranteed under Malaysian law

Police in Malaysia have said they will release nine Christians mistakenly accused of trying to convert Muslim university students to Christianity.

A university security guard wrongly thought they were handing Christian pamphlets to Muslims, police said.

Trying to convert Muslims to another religion is forbidden in Malaysia, though Muslims may proselytise.

Members of religious minorities have complained that their rights are being ignored in Muslim-majority Malaysia.

The nine Christians, five students and four friends from Hong Kong, were arrested late on Tuesday at Universiti Putra Malaysia in Serdang, near Kuala Lumpur.

District police chief Zahedi Ayob said they had been distributing questionnaires to other Christians, not Muslims, as security guards at the university had believed.

Religious disharmony investigation

The arrests followed a controversy last week centring on two journalists who wrote about hiding their Muslim identity in order to receive Communion at a Roman Catholic church.

One of the journalists said they were investigating reports that Muslims had committed apostasy by attending prayers or Communion at the church, but that they found no evidence of this.

A Christian priest complained about the article, published in the Malay-language magazine al-Islam.

Police said officials were investigating whether the two men had caused religious disharmony, a crime punishable by up to five years in prison.

Religious issues are highly sensitive in Malaysia, which has a 60% Muslim population. Christians, Buddhists and Hindus make up most of the rest of the population.

Religious freedom is guaranteed by law, but minority groups have accused the Muslim Malay majority of trying to increase the role of Islam in the country.



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