The Coalition of Malaysian NGOs in the UPR Process (Comango) expressed concern that the Religious and Racial Hatred Act will be used as a tool for harassment and persecution against those with opposing viewpoints on religion.
In a statement, Comango representative Rizal Rozhan said it applauded the government's proactive steps to ensure racial and religious harmony in multiracial and multi-religious in the country but cautioned the government from turning the soon to be tabled bill into a law criminalising blasphemy.
"Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media, and regardless of frontiers.
"The same freedom is similarly enshrined under Article 10 of the Federal Constitution," said Rizal, who is also the advocacy and capacity-building officer for the NGO Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Empower).
Rizal added that the government’s consideration of any hate speech should be in the spirit of the Rabat Plan of Action which prohibits the advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.
He said the public should be free to point out if they disagree with religious edicts or teachings without fear of reprisal, especially those that involve punitive action.
This expression is not limited to articles but also jokes, satire, and parodies that are used to highlight social and religious issues in Malaysia.
"We urge the government to protect citizens from punitive action or repercussions arising out of legitimate criticism of religion," he said, adding that Comango supports the criminalisation of hate speech against race and religion.
The NGO also urged the government to protect other minorities in Malaysia from hate speech to ensure fairness, equality, respect, and harmony for all.