KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - A Malaysian court sentenced a Muslim to a week in jail on Tuesday and fined 11 others for a brandishing a cow’s head during a protest against the construction of a Hindu temple.
Critics said the light sentences may further strain race relations between Muslims, who make up the majority of the country’s 28 million population, and minority Hindus and Christians who complain of discrimination.
“Going ahead, this will become a political issue for the country’s minorities and further reinforce their unhappiness,” said James Chin, a politics professor at Monash University in Kuala Lumpur.
The 12 were from a group who had marched in August last year with the head of a cow to protest a plan to build a Hindu temple in their mainly Muslim neighbourhood. Hindus, who consider the cow to be a sacred animal, were angered.
Non-Muslims, who together constitute 40 percent of the population, handed the country’s ruling coalition its worst defeat in the polls in 2008 due to growing alienation.
Since taking office in April last year, Prime Minister Najib Najib Razak has tried to reach out to minorities with an inclusive “1Malaysia” policy.
But ethnic and religious tensions remain high after a number of religiously charged disputes including the “cow head protest” and an ongoing row over the use of the word Allah by Christians which saw houses of worship being attacked early this year.
Editing by Sanjeev Miglani