Kasthuri Patto (Twitter)

A Malaysian Catholic MP’s call last month for the government to sign the UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief has highlighted the “deep-seated tensions between ultra-conservative Muslims and the new government”, says the director of Malaysia’s Religious Freedom and Liberty Partnership.

In an article for the Religious Freedom Institute, Eugene Yapp says MP Kasthuri Patto’s comments were “a first for any parliamentarian to go on-the-record to issue such a call in support of religious freedom”.

Her comments were heavily criticised by ultra-conservative Muslims, who said she had “encouraged apostasy and promoted the proselytization of Muslims”. The harassment she was subjected to was so intense, Yapp says, that it reportedly led her to file a complaint with the police.

In September, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad promised the UN General Assembly that his new government would ratify all remaining UN human rights conventions, while the Minister of Religion has sought to explain to his countrymen that signing the declaration is not at odds with the religion of the state: Islam.

He “reminded Malaysians that Islam … is to be a blessing to others,” Yapp writes. “This includes recognising and protecting the rights and freedoms of others to profess and practise their own religion or faith.”

A Malaysian pastor who received death threats for alleged proselytism of Muslims was abducted in February 2017 and remains missing.