By Agence France-Presse, Updated: 3/5/2010
Malaysia has defended a decision not to prosecute two Muslim journalists accused of desecrating a communion wafer in a Catholic church, saying they acted out of "sheer ignorance".The archbishop of Kuala Lumpur Murphy Pakiam has criticised the government's "failure to act" over the incident, in which the pair joined a Catholic service to investigate claims Muslims were illegally converting.
"The journalists have displayed utmost disrespect for the Catholic community when they admit receiving and spitting out the Holy Communion," he told a press conference Thursday. However, the government's top lawyer, Attorney-General Abdul Gani Patail, said the pair did not understand the significance of the wafer, which Catholics believe represents the body of Jesus Christ.
"The actions of the two reporters may have hurt the feelings of the people but I was satisfied that they did not intend to offend anyone. It was an act of sheer ignorance," he said in a statement late Thursday.
"Therefore in view of the circumstances at that particular time and in the interest of justice, peace and harmony, I decided not to press any charges against them," he said. Murphy Pakiam has called for an apology over the incident, which he said "does not augur well on inter-religious harmony and peace" in Muslim-majority Malaysia, which has been beset by religious disputes in recent months.
The multi-ethnic country was hit with a spate of firebombings against churches and mosques in January, triggered by a dispute over the use of the word "Allah" as a translation for "God" by non-Muslims.
The rows have strained relations between majority Muslim Malays and minorities including ethnic Chinese and Indian communities who fear the country is being "Islamised."About nine percent of Malaysia's 28 million population are Christians, including 850,000 Catholics.