Leaders of a pro-government Malay nationalist group were arrested on Friday for smashing beer bottles outside a state secretariat building and protesting against a proposed beer festival in the capital Kuala Lumpur. Protests against events deemed as “Western” or un-Islamic are not uncommon in Muslim-majority Malaysia, but such incidents have increased in recent years.
Critics say ultra-nationalist groups have been empowered by Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government, which has been largely silent on such protests as it seeks to secure its large, rural Malay vote bank ahead of an election expected in coming months. Jamal Yunos, who heads a Malay group called “Red Shirts”, was arrested for smashing about 100 beer bottles with a sledgehammer outside the Selangor state council building on Thursday, state news agency Bernama reported.
He was arrested along with seven others who were also protesting against holding beer festivals in Selangor. Those arrested have been remanded to police custody for three days. The state, which is run by Malaysia’s federal opposition alliance, said it would allow beer festivals as long as organisers adhered to conditions set by police and local council.
“The non-Muslims are free to drink beer, they can drink as much as they want, at home, restaurant or entertainment outlet, nobody bothers.” Jamal was quoted as saying on Thursday, according to Bernama. There are plenty of beer drinkers among the sizable Chinese and Indian minorities in Malaysia.
A craft beer festival that had previously been running in Kuala Lumpur for five years was cancelled amid calls by right wing Islamist parties to ban the festival. Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) also objected last month to an Oktoberfest-related event, which was eventually cancelled.
Organisers of big events are now increasingly wary of including Malaysia on their itineraries, following the cancellation of the beer festival and other similar events. The Red shirts group had previously demonstrated in a pro-government counter rally against the anti-corruption rally, Bersih.