CAIRO - Muslim scholars in Malaysia on Sunday, May 6, issued a fatwa banning mass protests in the Asian country, a move criticized by the opposition as an attempt to muzzle citizens, The Malaysian Insider reported.
Rioting, causing disturbances and damaging public property are all forbidden by Islam, Dr Abdul Shukor Husin, chairman of the National Fatwa Council, said.
This also applies to any intention to topple a duly elected government by organizing such demonstrations.
No one is exempted, and cannot support any efforts that can cause harm, anxiety or unrest among Muslims to the point of the community becoming split, what more if there is bloodshed, Abdul Shukor said.
The fatwa follows mass protests last month in the capital Kuala Lumpur calling for electoral reforms.
Protestors, chiefly teenagers, wore yellow T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan Bersih, or Clean in Malay.
But the protest, called for by the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih), turned chaotic when riot police tried to disperse the protestors after breaching police barricades.
On Friday, Prime Minister Najib Razak described the protest as an attempt to oust the country's elected government.
But the election watchdog denied the accusations, insisting that the protest was purely to demand clean and fair elections.
But the fatwa drew fire from the Malaysian opposition as a violation of the people's right to free expression.
We will send a letter to the Fatwa Council to request an explanation, Shamsul Iskandar Md Akin, youth chief in the People's Justice Party, told The Malaysian Insider.
Bersih has good intentions, it is based on true principles, to demand for clean elections, he said.
Shamsul believes that the fatwa targets individuals' right to assembly and expression.
The truth is the truth, even though it hurts. There must be freedom to express one's views and stand, he stressed.
Bersih is a loose coalition of 62 opposition parties and non-government groups that is pushing for reforms to the electoral process.
It held its first rally in November 2007, which drew between 30,000 to 50,000 people. The protest was broken up by police using tear gas and water cannons.
The second rally was held in July 2011 and met with similar force by the police after protestors tried to make their way to the Merdeka Stadium.
Malaysia's parliamentary elections are due in 2013, but expectations are high that the polls could be called much earlier.
Prime Minister Najib Razak has pushed reforms to the electoral system that critics have long complained is rigged in the government's favor.
A bipartisan parliamentary committee set up by Najib last month issued 22 proposals for electoral reform, including steps to clean up electoral rolls and equal access to media.
But the government gave no guarantee that any of the steps will be in place for the next election.
Bersih says the proposals do not meet most of its key demands, including lengthening the campaign period to at least 21 days from the current seven days.
It also wants an independent audit of the electoral roll and international observers at polling stations.Bersih and opposition parties say they have unearthed multiple instances of irregularities in voter rolls, including over 50 voters registered at one address.