A Malaysian writer named Uthaya Sankar was arrested on April 11 after being accused of insulting the Prophet Mohammad in a Facebook post.
He was released on bail the following day but is still facing investigation under Section 298A of Malaysia’s penal code for causing disharmony, disunity, or feelings of enmity, hatred, or ill will on the grounds of religion.
The Facebook post, which Mr. Sankar uploaded on April 6, referred to a hadith (Islamic narration or quotation), which he commented on a Malaysian actor’s post about polygamy. However, he insists that it was not meant to insult Mohammad.
Ma Thida, the chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee, issued a statement condemning the arrest of Mr. Sankar.
He said, “Uthaya Sankar SB’s arrest for his social media post highlights the limits of free expression in Malaysia on issues such as religion. However well-intentioned, the authorities’ use of blasphemy legislation to investigate any alleged criticism of religion will do little to promote dialogue and mutual understanding, which are central tenets to promoting religious harmony in any society.”
This recent arrest of Mr. Sankar demonstrates that Malaysia, which is majority Muslim, still has a long way to go with regard to freedom of religion and freedom of speech. The country has seen the continual use of repressive laws to harass citizens, including those accused of offending the Muslim-majority population. Activists and media groups have been pressing for the review and repeal of these laws.