Four Finnish citizens were arrested at a hotel in Malaysia’s Langkawi district on November 20 on allegations that the group was illegally distributing Christian missionary paraphernalia at public places on a popular resort island 30 km off the coast of the Malaysian mainland.
Langkawi Island’s police chief, Mohamad Iqbal Ibrahim, said the Finns, aged between 27 and 60, had arrived in Malaysia on November 18. At the time of their arrest, according to Ibrahim, the four had in their possession 336 notebooks and pamphlets containing texts from the Bible and a set of 47 pens with Bible verses.
The group includes three men and one woman, including a married couple.
Muslims comprise nearly two-thirds of Malaysia’s 31 million people and are also not legally permitted to change religion. Proselytising to members of the Islamic faith is banned in Malaysia, though the reverse is allowed. If found guilty of “causing disharmony” – the name listed by Malaysian legal statutes that deal with religious crimes – the four could face up to five years in prison.
Langkawi, a jungle-clad, tropical island that attracts millions of tourists to its palm-fringed beaches, has recently been no stranger to alleged crimes involving foreigners. On October 18, a 61-year-old British national, Samantha Williams, was arrested by the Royal Malaysian Police after she was suspected of killing her husband after stabbing him with a 30-centimetre kitchen kife.
The couple had lived on Langkawi for the last 11 years, according to Ibrahim.