Flap over KL action against bloggers

Alvin Tan and Vivian Lee have been denied bail and could face jail terms if convicted, apart from fines of up to RM50,000.

KUALA LUMPUR - Alvin Tan and Vivian Lee, who were charged in court on Thursday with sedition, have been chastised across the board for posting a Ramadan greeting with a photo of them eating pork.

But amid the crescendo of criticism, there have been calls for the authorities to be even-handed in dealing with those who make offensive remarks about other religions too.

Some also said charging the couple under the Sedition Act is too punitive, with its maximum sentence of five years' jail.

While opposition leaders have joined a chorus of government leaders to push for punishing the couple for their post, two politicians from the opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia said the government should prosecute just as vigorously Muslims who make seditious statements.

"Why the double standard against those who called for Bibles to be burnt? Those who hurt the religious sentiments of Hindus? It is also very wrong under the Islamic laws," said Kota Raja MP Siti Mariah Mahmud in a report by a news website.

She was referring to Mr Ibrahim Ali, the controversial leader of the Malay supremacy group Perkasa, who had called on Muslims to burn Malay Bibles in January, angering the country's nearly three million Christians.

When six people desecrated a cow head in an August 2009 protest against the Selangor government's relocation of a Hindu temple to a Muslim majority neighbourhood, they were charged with sedition only a year later.

"Our politicians seem to be united in wanting to punish someone who has hurt the feelings of Muslims, but divided when it comes to others who have hurt the feelings of non-Muslims," said political analyst Wan Saiful Wan Jan of the think-tank Ideas.

"There is a clear difference in how the government reacts and this is creating a division in our society."

Ex-NUS law scholar and girlfriend post explicit videos online
Click on thumbnail to view (Photos: Internet)
For more photos, click here.
Blog taken down due to parental pressure
Click on thumbnail to view (Photos: AsiaOne)
Ex-NUS law scholar and girlfriend post explicit videos online
Click on thumbnail to view (Photos: Internet)
For more photos, click here.

Tan and Lee were also charged under the Film Censorship Act and the Penal Code for posting pornography and comments that could cause religious enmity, for which they could face up to RM50,000 (S$20,000) in fines, in addition to jail time.

Some say denying the couple bail was "overkill". "You deny bail to two silly people who did something silly, even though no violence at all ensued? Horrible decision," tweeted lawyer and blogger on legal issues K. Shanmuga.

Lee, a kindergarten teacher earning RM900 a month and Tan, an unemployed former Asean scholarship holder at the National University of Singapore law school, were sent to separate prisons pending trial.

But in the past week before the charges were levelled at the pair, there is no denying the outrage their post caused among both Muslims and non-Muslims during one of the most holy months of the Muslim calendar.

"I'm concerned that if such mockery is unchecked, it will become a trend which Muslims will not tolerate any more," Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin was quoted saying by a news website.

lestkong@sph.com.sg

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