It’s farcical, but carol singing is a national security issue in Malaysia from this year.
Prime Minister Najib Razak’s spanking new Peaceful Assembly Bill 2011 that was passed last month has bared its teeth and caused astonishment and fright in equal measure.
The law is being put to use to control Christmas carollers and the places they visit during the run-up to Christmas, making them spies and government informers all rolled into one.
According to Christian groups in the country, they have been notified of strict new conditions imposed that they need to satisfy before they are granted a police permit to visit households and sing Christmas carols.
The new rules have alarmed civil and religious rights activists and church carolling groups are in a quandary over how to fulfill the conditions to gain the police permit needed to go carol singing.
Catholic Bishop Paul Tan Chee Ing described the new conditions as turning the country into “very nearly a police state”, local news portal, Malaysiakini reported.
“The Peaceful Assembly Bill 2011 is vexing if things have come down to this,” the bishop who is head of the Catholic Church for the Malacca-Johor diocese and president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia told the portal this week.
Up to last year, carolling groups visiting Christian homes during the Christmas season were required to apply for a police permit for the visits and approvals were never a problem.
However, under provisions of the recently passed, highly controversial Peaceful Assembly Bill, Christian authorities must furnish the names of the main occupants of homes the carollers intend to visit.
“If parish priests have to furnish the names of the main tenants, then we have become very nearly a police state. This is a bureaucratic requirement that is so vexing,” said Tan.
“We are a church that periodically conducts a census of our members, but we do not go around asking our members details of where exactly they stay and if they own their residences or are merely tenants.
“We generally know where they stay but we don’t keep a ledger of their addresses. We don’t snoop and we respect the privacy of individual members of our congregation. We don’t believe we should be Big Brother or Nanny to them,” he added.Read more.