Malaysian leader blasts religious plan to spy on lustful men and women

Malaysia's leader said state religious officials should scrap a plan to spy on unmarried Muslims to catch any immoral activities, and instead should focus on strengthening Islamic values, news reports said Friday.

The Star newspaper quoted Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi as saying the plan by officials in the conservative northern state of Terengganu to plant spies as hotel janitors or waiters to tip off the Islamic Department about improper activities would be an unacceptable invasion of privacy.

"I say there is no need for this," it quoted Abdullah as saying.

He said religious officials should stop trying to police Muslims' morals, and should work on programs to instill Islamic values in their communities, the newspaper said.

"We can take action against those who are involved in vice activities in public places, but there is no need for us to snoop, as that will infringe on people's right to privacy," the newspaper said Abdullah told Malaysian reporters Thursday during a visit to Indonesia.

Abdullah's aides were not immediately available for comment.

The spies would mainly watch for unmarried couples committing "khalwat," or "close proximity" - meaning non-chaperoned meetings between women and men. It is a crime under Malaysia's Islamic law, a separate system which does not apply to the Southeast Asian nation's substantial non-Muslim minorities.

Muslims found guilty of khalwat can be jailed for up to two months, the AP said.

Rosol Wahid, chairman of Terengganu's Islamic welfare committee, which proposed the spies, was quoted in Friday's New Straits Times newspaper as saying that their presence would "act as a deterrent" against immoral activities.

"We are not in the business of putting couples or their families to shame," Rosol said. "We are helping families and society."

However, he added that "we have more serious matters to attend to than focus on khalwat."

At least two other states' religious officials have suggested setting up similar squads in recent years. The government scuttled the plans, citing concerns over invasion of privacy.

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