KUALA LUMPUR,. Malaysia was ranked the 8th worst country for freedom of thought, placing 189th among 196 countries worldwide in the International Humanist and Ethical Union’s (IHEU) Freedom of Thought Report 2018 published yesterday.
The report pointed out that the ten worst-performing countries uniquely share “a conservative vision of Islam is deeply embedded in the legal framework”, where the legislation is either entirely or partly derived from religious laws or authorities.
“Both Malaysia and Pakistan are among the countries which have suffered specific apparent anti-atheist and anti-‘blasphemy’ violence in recent years,” said the report.
However, it noted that that there is “a few signals of hope” the worst-performing countries, such as the regime change in Malaysia following the 14th general election.
Malaysia ranked only slightly better than these countries: Saudi Arabia (196th and last place), Iran (195), Afghanistan (194), the Maldives (193), Pakistan (192), the United Arab Emirates (191), and Mauritania (190).
The list was jointly-topped by Belgium, the Netherlands, and Taiwan which received perfect score.
Among highlighted new issues that have cropped since last year were the teachings of violent topics in Islamic education, and the still unresolved matter of child marriages in the country.
The report also noted “increased discrimination, harassment and violent hate crime against the LGBT community” during Pakatan Harapan’s first 100 days in power, including the joint raid on alleged gay club Blue Boy in Kuala Lumpur.
It also highlighted the Shariah caning sentence against the single mother in Terengganu for offering sex work.
Responding to the report, advocacy group Malaysian Atheists and Secular Humanists (MASH) said that “religious-fueled intolerance, supplemented by hostile and violent sentiments from both state and non-state actors in recent years, have only increased in intensity”.
“Atheists and other minority groups, especially the LGBTQI+ community, are often forcibly stripped of their right to freedom of expression, being needlessly assailed by onslaughts of vitriol online and offline. Many go into hiding to avoid persecution,” its media officer Amelia Han said in a separate statement.
Starting out in 2012, the report is a worldwide survey of discrimination and persecution against humanists, atheists and the non-religious.
It is prepared from submissions received from experts, relevant parties, and members of IHEU, a worldwide umbrella of humanist, atheist, secular and similar organisations.
Last year, Malaysia was singled out and listed among seven countries worldwide that practise “active persecution” of the non-religious, following a so-called “hunt” against atheists starting earlier that year.