Articles 295-298A of the Malaysian Penal Code provide penalties for those who commit offenses against religion. The penalties include up to three years in prison or a large fine. Prosecutions for blasphemy usually target those who offend Islam, but an insult to any religion can give rise to prosecution.
In September 2015, the Federal Court in Malaysia ruled that a further provision in the Selangor state Syariah law (the Malay spelling of ‘Sharia’) criminalising Muslims for publishing and disseminating religious books that contradict “Islamic Law”, is valid.
The government’s ban on the use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims in Malay-language Bibles and other Christian publications was upheld on 14 October 2014, the court of appeal overturning a 2009 decision that such a ban was unlawful.
While religious beliefs are thus protected from criticism, in May 2014, Prime Minister Najib Razak labelled “humanism and secularism as well as liberalism” a dangerous threat to Islam and the state. Speaking at the opening the 57th national Quran Recital Assembly, he characterised secular worldviews as dangerous ideologies, saying:
“They call it human rightism, where the core beliefs are based on humanism and secularism as well as liberalism. It’s deviationist in that it glorifies the desires of man alone and rejects any value system that encompasses religious norms and etiquettes. They do this on the premise of championing human rights.”
It is worth noting in this context that despite contradicting federal law, the state governments of Kelantan and Terengganu passed laws in 1993 and 2002, respectively, making apostasy a capital offense. Apostasy is defined as the conversion from Islam to another faith. Despite their long standing, it appears that no one has been convicted under these laws and, according to a 1993 statement by the Attorney General, the laws could not be enforced without a constitutional amendment. However, the death-for-apostasy laws remain on the books, with all the “chill factor” — and the demonization of religious conversion and atheism — that “apostasy” implies.