Former ambassador: Arrest of Iraqi Shia unacceptable

(AhlulBayt News Agency) - A former Malaysian ambassador has hit out at the recent arrests of more than 200 Iraqi Shia Muslims, saying this could court condemnation from the United Nations Human Rights Commission.

Speaking to FMT on condition of anonymity, the former ambassador said the authorities shouldn’t impose their views on foreigners.

“We don’t even impose Islamic laws on non-Muslim Malaysians, so how can we subject foreigners to our Islamic laws?”

The former ambassador said that it was different if the Iraqi nationals, who were mourning in the day of Ashura.

Shia Muslims worldwide mark the week leading to Ashura with events to commemorate the martyrdom anniversary of Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Imam Hussein.

The former ambassador also said when taking action against foreigners, religious authorities should consult Wisma Putra first to avoid incidents which could “sour” bilateral relations.

Meanwhile, a Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) academic said the problem was a lack of clarity on how foreigners are supposed to be treated by the law in cases like this.

Speaking to FMT, Shafina Tantiana Zulkipli, from the university’s Department of Politics and International Relations, said from a legal perspective, the government can control or restrict the propagation of any religious doctrine among Muslims and it has also prohibited the spread of Shia ideology.

“At the same time, when we look at the rights of foreigners, the respect for a person’s religious belief is one of the major international issues of concern to the United Nations.

“Generally, the international community recognises religious freedom as a universal right which needs to be respected.”

From an international human rights point of view, Shafina said the treatment which host countries should accord to foreigners puts a limitation on the country’s sovereignty.

“This is a problem not only in Malaysia but throughout the world.

“There have been cases where domestic laws restrict the rights of an individual, including foreigners to practise their faith.

“Baghdad’s reported reaction to the issue, in pressuring the authorities to release its citizens, is appropriate as it has a duty to protect its citizens abroad, including affirming its values, beliefs and culture.”

Shafina said she didn’t believe the incident will spark tensions or affect diplomatic relations with Iraq, as Malaysia’s stand on the Shia isn’t new.

Over the weekend, it was reported that Islamic authorities in Selangor had arrested nearly 200 Iraqi nationals, most of them students, during a crackdown ahead of Ashura, which falls on 10 Muharram of the Islamic calendar. 

According to several Arabic-language media outlets, the Iraqis arrested were released following pressure from Baghdad.

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