KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (TheBlaze/AP) — Prosecutors on Thursday charged two Malaysians with sedition and inciting religious enmity after they posted a photograph on Facebook considered an insult to the Muslim holy month of fasting. They face up to eight years in prison if convicted of both charges in the Muslim-majority nation.
Alvin Tan and Vivian Lee, both ethnic Chinese non-Muslims in their 20s, drew criticism when they uploaded a photograph of themselves earlier this month eating pork stew while conveying greetings to Muslims for the current fasting month of Ramadan. Pork is forbidden for Muslims, which is why the photo was so controversial.
Tan and Lee had indicated last week that the photo was meant to be humorous, however that hasn’t tempered angst in the wake of the debate over the image.
In English, the caption reads, according to the International Business Times, “Allow us to introduce our way of inculcating the the spirit of 1Malaysia and that is by exchanging food between the races in Malaysia during this holy celebration. The right to enjoy local delicacies should cross the boundaries of race and also religion. To Muslims, happy breaking fast and Salam Aidilfitri – Your friends, Alvin and Vivian.”
Both pleaded not guilty Thursday in a Kuala Lumpur court, which refused to allow them to remain free on bail ahead of their trial.
Malaysia’s attorney general, Abdul Gani Patail, said in a statement that authorities want them detained because “they have the potential to upload content that could stir public anger.” They were expected to be placed in separate prisons ahead of a preliminary hearing Aug. 24 to schedule trial dates.
“The insolent and impudent act by the young couple who insulted Islam showed that freedom of expression and irresponsible opinion can jeopardize the community,” Patail was also quoted as saying, according to the Australian.
Sedition as defined by Malaysian law includes spreading ill will among people of different races. Ethnic Malay Muslims comprise nearly two-thirds of Malaysia’s 29 million people. Ethnic Chinese, who are nearly a quarter of the population, constitute the main minority community, mainly Buddhists and Christians.
This isn’t the first time that Tan and Lee have sparked controversy. They are also known sex bloggers who have posted racy images and content online in the past.
Abdul Gani said a man was abducted and beaten up by a group of men this week in a case that was believed to be linked to the photo of Tan and Lee. He did not elaborate, but Malaysian media reports have said the incident involved an ethnic Chinese man who was stripped and eventually set free after his assailants scrawled Malay-language words translated as “I insulted the religion of Islam” with ink on his chest.
Racial and religious issues sometimes cause tensions in Malaysia, though ethnic violence is rare. Separately this month, some Muslim activists urged authorities to expel the first Vatican ambassador to Malaysia because they believed he was trying to interfere in a legal battle between the government and a Roman Catholic newspaper over the use of “Allah” as a translation for God.