Wednesday, April 19, 2006

"Strict" Morality Laws Harm Tourism: Malaysian Minister.

KUALA LUMPUR, April 18, 2006 ( – Malaysian Housing and Local Government Minister Ong Ka Ting believes morality laws should be only applied to "very obvious" cases of indecent or disorderly behavior otherwise they would scare away tourists, The New Strait Times reported on Tuesday, April 18.

"The by-laws should only be enforced in instances when members of the public call up and lodge a complaint that someone is naked in the park or that someone has stripped and is obviously up to something," he said.

The minister stressed that local authorities charged with enforcing the laws should not go on the lookout for offenders. "Please do not send your enforcement teams to stake out public parks," Ong said.

"For instance, is it indecent for a loving husband and wife to hold hands or sit close to each other in a public park? This can lead to misinterpretation by outsiders."

The Federal Court has ruled that Kuala Lumpur City Hall had the authority to enact by-laws to prosecute people for indecent public behavior. It gave the magistrate hearing such cases the authority to decide if hugging and kissing constituted indecent behavior.

Harming Tourism

The minister warned that the strict enforcement of the relevant laws would have an adverse affect on tourism, a key foreign currency earner for the heavyweight Muslim country. He said "moral policing" could affect the "Visit Malaysia Year 2007" campaign themed "Celebrating 50 Years of Nationhood."

Ong said he himself had been approached several times abroad and asked whether holding hands was an offence in Malaysia. He asserted that the government was very concerned about the whole issue, and his ministry would meet soon with several other ministries to clearly define indecent behavior.

The Housing and Local Government Ministry will then draft the guidelines for submission by the National Council of Local Governments to all local authorities.

Muslim Malays comprise about 60 percent of Malaysia’s 26 million people, while ethnic Chinese and Indians - most of them Buddhists, Hindus and Christians - make up about 35 percent. The rest are indigenous people and Eurasians.

Malaysia offers the image of a model Muslim country, heading towards the status of developed nation with huge buildings, beautiful cities and a fast track economy. Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi launched on Friday, March 31, an ambitious development plan for Malaysia to become the first developed Muslim nation by 2020.

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