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Chinese Malay couple faces prison for posting photo of them eating pork

(RNS) The couple allegedly posted a photograph of themselves earlier in July, smiling at a roadside restaurant while eating pork stew with chopsticks.

BANGKOK, Thailand (RNS) A non-Muslim Chinese couple who posted on Facebook a photo of themselves eating pork during the Islamic month of Ramadan face up to 15 years in prison in Muslim-majority Malaysia for sedition and other crimes.

“They were charged under the Sedition Act, the Film Censorship Act, and the Penal Code,” the Malaysia Chronicle reported on Thursday (July 18).

Alvin Tan and Vivian Lee — also known as Tan Jye Yee and Lee May Ling — pleaded not guilty at the Sessions Court in Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur.

“They have the potential to upload content that could stir anger,” said Malaysia’s Attorney General Abdul Gani Patail, demanding the man and woman be jailed pending their next hearing.

Tan, 25, and Lee, 24, are Malaysian citizens.

They allegedly posted a photograph of themselves earlier in July, smiling at a roadside restaurant while eating pork stew with chopsticks.

The photo included a caption greeting Muslims during Ramadan, plus their personal website address.

That website displayed several of their YouTube videos including “Vaginas,” “Sexual Fantasies,” “Gays and Homosexuals.”

In court, Mr. Tan said the dinner photo was meant as humor and not as an insult, and he also apologized in a YouTube video asking “for forgiveness for offending Muslims in this holy month of Ramadan.”

Video courtesy SexcussionsAlvivi via YouTube

Pork is forbidden for Muslims.

Ethnic Malay Muslims comprise about two-thirds of the Southeast Asian nation’s population, compared to Chinese who form about 25 percent of Malaysia’s total of 30 million people.

Malaysia’s Chinese are mostly Buddhists or Christians and can eat pork.

The Sedition Act punishes any “act” or “words” that cause “hatred or contempt” or “disaffection” against the government, the justice system, any “rulers” or “between different races or classes.”

A first offense can result in three years imprisonment, but if the Chinese couple are also convicted under the film censorship and penal code, the total could be 15 years in jail, reports said.

To control and punish people, Malaysia uses secular laws inherited from colonial Britain plus some Shariah laws drawn from the Quran, depending on the geographical region, jurisdiction, and the suspect’s religion.

In 2009, a Shariah High Court sentenced a Muslim woman to be whipped six lashes with a rattan cane, and fined $1,400, for drinking beer in a nightclub.

Her sentence was later reduced to three weeks community service.

Religious police also arrest unmarried couples of the opposite sex if they are together with no one else in a room — a crime called “khalwat” — which bans such “close proximity.”

Homosexuality, meanwhile, is illegal throughout Malaysia.