MALAYSIA: Muslim brothers convicted of torching church building

Firefighters at Malaysia church On 13 August 2010 a Malaysian court sentenced two Muslim brothers to five years in prison for torching a Protestant church building earlier this year.

A firebomb on 8 January 2010 partially gutted the building, but no one was injured. It was the first in a series of arson attacks and vandalism at places of worship, including eleven churches, a Sikh temple, three mosques and two Muslim prayer rooms.

The attack followed a court verdict that allowed Christians to use the word “Allah” to refer to God in Malay-language publications – this angered some Muslims, who claim that that using the word “Allah” in Christian literature might confuse Muslims and tempt them to leave Islam for Christianity.

The dispute began when The Herald (the newspaper of the Roman Catholic church in Malaysia) challenged a government ban on the use of the word Allah. A court ruling granted The Herald the right to use the word. The government has appealed the verdict.

The brothers were convicted of “mischief by fire” with the intention of destroying a place of worship and Komathy Suppiah, a Kuala Lumpur district court judge, sentenced them each to five years in prison. However, she allowed them to remain free on bail until their appeal could be heard.

Both men had pleaded innocent, testifying that they were at a restaurant when they heard people planning to attack the nearby church. They said that they went to the church and saw men smashing its windows and setting it ablaze. One of the suspects, Raja Muhammad Faizal Raja Ibrahim (25) was arrested after he sought medical treatment for burns – he claimed that he suffered the burns at a barbecue after he and his brother, Raja Muhammad Idzham (23), left the church area.

Judge Suppiah ruled that their testimony was riddled with inconsistencies. “You have shamed the society and country,” she told them. “The message from this court must be loud and clear: don’t play with fire.”

Several other suspects have been arrested in connection with the attacks. The government subsequently increased security and urged people not to undermine the amicable ties between Malay Muslims (who comprise nearly two-thirds of Malaysia’s 28 million people) and ethnic Chinese and Indians who mainly practice Buddhism, Christianity or Hinduism. (Associated Press)