KUCHING: The Association of Churches in Sarawak (ACS) is "deeply concerned" by the 10-year jail term meted out on a Facebook user for insulting Islam.
ACS said the 22-year-old Sarawakian from Singai, Bau, reportedly suffered from mental illness and had pleaded guilty to the charges of uploading materials insulting Islam on social media.
"The object of the sentence should be to educate the young first-time offender with regard to his health condition, age and guilty plea," it said in a statement on Tuesday (March 12).
ACS also regretted that those who recently made offensive remarks against non-Muslims or their religions had not faced charges under the law.
Citing examples, it said PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang had warned Muslims in an opinion piece that they would go to hell if the country was led by non-Muslims, while Umno leader Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz had reportedly told voters in Semenyih that only Malays could hold important posts such as Attorney General, Chief Justice and Finance Minister.
ACS noted that while the federal government would set up a unit to monitor and take action against those who insult Islam on social media, there was no mention of monitoring or taking action against those who insult other religions.
"ACS appreciates and supports the efforts made by the federal and state governments to preserve peace, unity and harmony among the people of Malaysia.
"We do not approve or condone any acts or remarks that insult Islam or other religions," it said.
ACS called on the federal and state governments to restore religious freedom in line with the Cobbold Commission Report, Inter-Governmental Committee Report 1962, Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63) and the Federal Constitution.
It said the Cobbold Commission and Inter-Governmental Committee had assured Sarawakians and Sabahans that although Islam was the official religion of the new Federation of Malaysia, the country would remain secular and religious freedom would be guaranteed for all citizens.
"There is no state religion in Sarawak. When Malaysia was formed in 1963, the leaders and citizens respected the religions and cultures of Malaysia's multi-cultural society in the true spirit of MA63 and the Federal Constitution.
"Religious freedom in Malaysia has eroded over the past 50 years to the extent that the country is regarded by some leaders as an Islamic state and people are no longer able to freely profess and practise the religion of their choice," ACS said.
It welcomed the federal Cabinet's decision to restore the position of Sabah and Sarawak as equal partners under MA63 but said this would be meaningless without restoring religious freedom to its position in 1963.
"While it is important to restore and honour the rights of Sabah and Sarawak to oil and gas, territorial sea, autonomy over education, healthcare, taxation and revenue under MA63, we must not lose sight that the guarantee of religious freedom is the most fundamental of all the rights and liberties under MA63 and must be restored to its former position," it said.