Ayah Pin is still successfully evading Malaysia's police, but his followers are in danger and Human Rights Watchhas issued a human rights alert in connection with the persecution of the Sky Kingdom by the Malaysian Government. Earlier this week,
Fifty-eight members of the religious group, including 30 women and five children, were arrested...in the northeastern state of Terengganu by the State Religious Department, with help from the local police. They will be charged..under the Shariah Criminal Offences Act for practicing a "deviant religion," and if found guilty could be fined and jailed up to two years.
My guess is that the Malaysian Govt. is targetting the Sky Kingdom sect in order to curry favor with Muslim fundamentalists. One letter writer to the online newspaper, Malaysiakini, says the govt. is "two faced," courting favor with the West by saying it's moderate, while simultaneously giving a pass to local extremist leaders.
Someone who commented on my previous "Sky Kingdom" posts, which I've cross-posted as a diary on the "Dailykos" argued that the real reason for the US's friendly relationship with the Malaysian Govt. had to do with Burma and oil. Malaysia and Burma are neighbors, and Malaysia is home to many refugees from Burma - but Malaysia has a history of being more friendly with the Burmese miltiary regime during its isolation by most other nations. While the Sky Kingdom has been in the news, Malaysia also arrested 68 Burmese protestors in Kuala Lampur last week.
This commenter, "PBnJ" argues that the US's goal is to "choke off Burma," isolate them in the region, and then come in and get their oil, the way they did with Iraq. I don't think the US military is any position to do this, but, there's a point to looking at the regional politics this way. Certainly anyone who reads Noam Chomsky knows that the US has maintained friendly relations with Indonesia because of their oil, despite their egregious human rights record. However, we have been isolating Burma for years. Bush and Clinton policies regarding Burma have been pretty similar (just as they were pretty similar when it came to Iraq). As Burma is slated to become the leader of ASEAN in 2006, the US has been urging countries like Malaysia to go against this move, and Condoleeza Rice is not attending this year's ASEAN meeting. Looking at the regional politics with a focus on oil also leads us back to the ongoing effort by US firm Chevron's attempts to keep Unocal's assets, which include projects in Burma, (and reading their PR about how they have decided to go against US policy is pretty fascinating)Thailand and Indonesia. These are the ones that the Chinese govt. says it is most interested in getting, and probably the ones that the US would like to keep under its control. It will be interesting to keep an eye on both situations.
Meanwhile, the US is clearly interested in Malaysia for its own sake, as according to a state dept. report from January of this year, US private investment there is calculated at $20 billion, of which 60% is oil/gas related, the rest of which is related to high-tech manufacturing and the hopes for a Malaysian "silicon valley." I'm sure that protecting these investments will continue to be far more important than promoting religious freedom in Malaysia. With the Sky Kingdom making international news, it makes sense to add US policy in this country to the list of examples of the Bush regime's hypocrisy on the issue of "religious freedom," so near and dear to the hearts of his base.