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Building interfaith bridges in Malaysia, as online space for free expression comes under attack

A girl wearing a hijab waits at the Shah Alam stadium during celebrations of Maulidur Rasul, or the birth of Prophet Muhammad, outside Kuala Lumpur, 14 January 2014
A girl wearing a hijab waits at the Shah Alam stadium during celebrations of Maulidur Rasul, or the birth of Prophet Muhammad, outside Kuala Lumpur, 14 January 2014

REUTERS/Samsul Said

ARTICLE 19 has launched a social media project to facilitate discussion about issues surrounding religious intolerance in Malaysia, in partnership with the website Projek Dialog. By supporting the website, ARTICLE 19 hopes to promote greater interfaith and intercultural understanding in the country.

Religion plays a significant role in Malaysian politics, culture and identity. The Internet has created new spaces for people to discuss interfaith issues, with a great many people interacting in particular through social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

However, the online space for free expression is under attack. In November 2013, Friday Muslim sermons, which are scripted officially by the Malaysian Department for Islamic Development (JAKIM), preached nationwide about the threat that social media posed against Islam, and urged for more Internet control and for online censorship. These demands followed a series of arrests for online content that was deemed to be offensive to Islam.

"Malaysia is a very diverse country, with a multitude of languages, traditions and religions. It is vital that the authorities protect freedom of expression and promote dialogue, so that communities living together understand one another. Censorship, including restricting free speech online, breeds intolerance and damages society," said Thomas Hughes, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19. "The internet is a tool that can and should be used to build bridges between different religious communities," he added.

Projek Dialog will publish a series of articles from a wide range of perspectives from different parts of Malaysian society, and will promote social media interaction as a platform for discussions about themes and specific issues relating to religion in Malaysia.

Click here for more information on Projek Dialog.

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