Three charged over Malaysia church arson

KUALA LUMPUR: Three people were charged in a Malaysian court on Friday for the firebomb attack that gutted a church amid a row on the use of the word “Allah” by Christians, state news agency Bernama reported.

The three, all ethnic Malay Muslims aged between 22 to 24 who work as motorcycle couriers, claimed trial at the Kuala Lumpur sessions court to a charge of committing mischief by fire, Bernama reported.

The offence carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years and a fine upon conviction. Court officials and the lawyers of the accused were not immediately available for comment.

Police have arrested 19 people so far for in connection with a series of arson and vandalism attacks on 11 churches, a Catholic school, a Sikh temple, a mosque and two prayer rooms, reports Reuters.

The heads of pigs — an animal considered offensive to Muslims — were also dumped in two other mosques in the capital on Thursday, near to a neighbourhood hit by an ethnic clash nine years ago.

Analysts have said the attacks, although not an immediate risk, are raising worries among some foreign investors at a time when Prime Minister Najib Razak has pledged to lure more foreign investment.

The row stems from a court ruling on Dec. 31 last year allowing a Catholic newspaper to use the word “Allah” in its Malay-language editions to describe the Christian God.

The use of the word is common among Malay-speaking Christians, who account for 9.1 per cent of the 28 million population, mostly in the Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak.

The issue has unearthed combustible ethnic and religious political fault lines in the mainly Muslim Southeast Asian country.

The government is appealing against the court verdict, while the opposition maintains that the use of the word by Christians is permissible.

Malaysia’s mainly Chinese and Indian non-Muslim ethnic minorities, who form 40 percent of the country’s population, abandoned the ruling coalition in the 2008 general elections partly due to complaints over increasing religious marginalisation.

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