Malaysia: Hand-holding ban is dropped after 'overzealous' fines

The Independent
Religious police who fined courting couples for holding hands in Malaysia were criticised by the government for being ‘overzealous’ yesterday.
The city of Ipoh suspended its ‘no hand-holding’ rule after 30 unmarried non-Muslim couples were fined 30 ringgits (£5.00) for holding hands to keep the city ‘morally clean’. But Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the Deputy Prime Minister, admitted, ‘We are aware of the public concern for any sort of overzealousness by the law enforcement people that can cause embarrassment, as happened in Ipoh recently’. That concern persuaded Ipoh’s city council to suspend its rule yesterday. Malaysia’s official religion is Islam but the constitution allows freedom of religion for non-Muslims, who make up almost half of the population.

Mr Abdullah said law enforcement officers should not exceed their jurisdiction. ‘They should confine [themselves] to the law that they should enforce,’ he said. Last week, religious officers in central Selangor state were watched as they beat up a youth who had objected to being told off for placing his hands on his girlfriend’s shoulders. (Reuters, as published in The Independent, 6 June 2003).