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Hold hands and get fined

Kuala Lumpur, June 3 (Reuters): Couples in the Malaysian city of Ipoh risk getting slapped with a fine if they hold hands in public.

About 30 unmarried couples have been fined 30 ringgit ($7.90) for holding hands in a drive to keep the city “morally clean”, but the campaign has been rapped by rights groups.

“I think this is ridiculous,” said Cynthia Gabriel, director of the rights group Suaram. “We are a modernising society and there’s nothing wrong in expressing affection for each other. “We feel that holding hands in public is not indecent behaviour,” she said.

Malaysia’s official religion is Islam but the constitution allows freedom of religion to non-Muslims, who account for just less than half the population. None of the couples fined in Ipoh, Malaysia’s third largest city, were Muslims.

A columnist at the top-selling English-language daily the Star was indignant: “Religious zealots have no place in Malaysia,” wrote Wong Chun Wai. But mayor Sirajuddin Salleh was unrepentant. “It is not the hobby of the city council to fine people for no apparent reason,” he told a daily.

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