KUALA LUMPUR, : Mainly-Muslim Malaysia has blasted the US government over a report accusing it of restricting religious freedom, with a deputy minister describing it as "irresponsible and untruthful."
Buddhist devotees light oil lamps in Kuala Lumpur
"It is shocking for the US State Department to issue such a misleading, irresponsible and untruthful report," Deputy Information Minister Khalid Yunus told AFP.
"The whole world knows the religious freedom that exists in Malaysia, that we have close relationships and understanding among the people as far as freedom of religion is concerned.
"They can come here and see for themselves how tolerant we are," he said.
Khalid urged the US government to ensure that future reports were factually correct in order not to create "unnecessary animosity" in bilateral relations.
The annual International Religious Freedom Report issued by the US State Department listed Malaysia alongside Turkey, Russia, Indonesia, Brunei, Belarus, Eritrea, Moldova and Israel as among nine countries with laws or policies that favoured certain religions and placed others at a disadvantage.
The report said such policies curtailed religious freedom, citing for example the difficulty of a Muslim in Malaysia to switch religion.
Racial issues are sensitive in Malaysia, where there is a large ethnic Chinese and Hindu community alongside the majority Muslims who make up some 60 percent of Malaysia's 25 million population.
Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who leads a coalition of multi-racial parties, has also rejected the US report, saying the fact that all Malaysians celebrated together the various festivities of the major religions was a mark of tolerance.
"Ask the Christians, Buddhists and Hindus who have their churches and temples here. Don't ask me. If I talk, they will not believe. Ask others and they will tell you we practise religious freedom," he said over the weekend.
"What they are saying is all not true."
Parent site: "Focus on Malaysia"