Saturday, April 22, 2006

Malaysian govt to define indecent behaviour

The Malaysian government is coming up with a clear definition of what constitutes an act of public indecency.

This comes after the Federal Court ruled that local authorities have the power to enact bylaws to prosecute those guilty of indecent public behaviour.

It all started with an arrest at the central park next to Kuala Lumpur's Petronas Twin Towers.

A young Chinese couple was allegedly caught holding hands and kissing and charged with breaking city bylaws which stipulate prosecution for indecent public behaviour.

The couple challenged the local authorities' power to enact such bylaws but Malaysia's highest court ruled in favour of City Hall.

Not surprisingly, the judgement sparked heated debate in the multi-racial country.

Even parliamentarians had mixed reactions to the incident. Some lawmakers support the couple's argument that local authorities should not take the law into their own hands.

"We already have Penal Code Section 377 which provides that it is an offence if you commit gross indecency in public or private places. I think that's sufficient," said opposition MP Fong Poh Kuan.

The minister in charge of local authorities has been asked to produce a clear definition of what constitutes an act of public indecency.

"We are a traditional and modern society, I think everything in moderation we have our culture here, our people are free but we live in a society. Here in Malaysia, we have freedom of religion and the right of community. So, whatever the decision government makes, it will take in to account all sensitivities," said Women, Family and Community Development Minister Shahrizat Abdul Jalil.

Some Malaysians feel that as Malaysia is a Muslim-majority country, behaviour that Muslims frown upon should also be discouraged among non-Muslims.

"Even if it's your wife, you're not supposed to hug passionately in public. In Islam you are not supposed to do that. Why? Because you are encouraging others to do it as they might not know that you are husband and wife," reasoned Alwi Mohamad, Kelantan MP.

As the country waits for the government to come up with the final definition on what constitutes an act of public indecency in a multi-racial and multi-cultural society, many among the non-Muslim community are voicing their concerns over the growing influence of Islam in their lives.

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