KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia–A banned religious sect accused the Malaysian government Wednesday of committing human rights violations by detaining of dozens of its members under Islamic laws that forbid teachings that run contrary to the religion.
Four representatives of the Sky Kingdom sect submitted a protest note to the government’s Human Rights Commission, saying sect followers were facing “intimidation, harassment and unjust punitive measures and coercion by those in authority.”
“What began for me as an innocent and rewarding experience has turned into a nightmare,” said Judith Lillian McDonald, a 54-year-old New Zealand national and Sky Kingdom member, who was arrested in a police raid last week on the sect’s commune in northeastern Terengganu state.
“I no longer feel safe in this country,” said McDonald, who has since been freed because authorities say she is officially a Christian and can’t be charged under Islamic laws.
The sect is believed to have hundreds of mostly ethnic Malay Muslim members in northeastern Malaysia, but also reportedly has followers of African, Indian and British nationalities.
The followers say they come from all religions in this mostly Muslim country, but deny spreading deviationist teachings. They gained widespread attention this year after building a house-sized teapot, umbrella and boat, describing these as structures of interfaith harmony.
A mob of about 30 people who were allegedly upset with the sect’s teachings attacked its commune last week, setting fire to some of the structures. No injuries were reported, but the sect’s leader, Ariffin Mohammed, has disappeared since the incident.
Authorities subsequently raided the commune, and detained and charged 49 followers for flouting an edict issued by Islamic state officials that declared their beliefs contrary to Islam. If found guilty, they could be fined and jailed for up to two years.
The rights commission said it would investigate the issue and make recommendations to the government on how to handle the matter. However, its suggestions are not binding on authorities.