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Protest as Mel Gibson's film shown only to Christians

29 July 2004

The general secretary of the Council of Churches in Malaysia has criticized the decision by the Malaysian Film Censorship Board’s to restrict the showing of Mel Gibson’s film "The Passion of the Christ" only to Christians.

"We are not in agreement that this should be restricted to Christians only," said Rev. Dr Hermen Shastri at the opening press conference at the World Council of Churches (WCC) Faith and Order plenary commission, which is meeting in Kuala Lumpur from 28 July to 6 August, 2004.

"This goes against the grain of fostering inter-religious understanding, a cornerstone of Malaysian social life since the independence of our country. We have expressed our displeasure and made our appeal," he added.

To the suggestion that Muslims might be offended by the depiction of Jesus, regarded by them as a prophet, Shastri said : "There are differences in doctrinal teachings between Islam and Christianity. But that doesn’t mean that if one religious community disagrees with an interpretation, other religious communities such as Hindus and Buddhists shouldn’t be free to watch the film."

The film was to have been banned entirely in Malaysia, but was permitted for Christian audiences following representations by the Christian community. "We see the movie as we would any other movie made in Hollywood," Shastri said about the controversial film.

Opening next month, "The Passion" is expected to draw large crowds, with one pastor, the Rev. Wong Kim Kong of the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship (NECF), estimating that more than 200,000 would see it. The NECF is to co-ordinate ticket sales through local churches in order to comply with the government’s restrictions.

The decision not to allow it to be shown to Muslims has also been criticized in the Malaysian parliament and in the country’s press.