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Police Get Wide Powers Against Banned Sect

August 26, 1994

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) _ The government today gave police sweeping powers to crack down on a banned Islamic sect and said its members will be caned if they are convicted by Islamic courts.

Officials of the sect, Al Arqam, said that within hours after the government announced its action, police arrested at least five sect members who had gone to a police station to file a complaint against Malaysia’s police chief over allegations he had made against Al Arqam.

By officially publishing its decision, the home ministry formalized the Aug. 5 ban on the group imposed by the state-controlled Fatwa Council, the supreme Islamic body in Malaysia.

Authorities fear the messianic sect could cause disunity among Malaysia’s majority Malays, who are almost all Muslims.

The government order gives police powers to arrest Al Arqam members who propagate their teachings, which the government says deviate from mainstream Islam. If charged with deviationist teachings, Al Arqam members will be tried in Islamic courts.

Police also can close down the group’s 40 communes and 237 schools and confiscate assets. Top police officials speaking on condition of anonymity said they are empowered to enforce the Internal Security Act, which allows indefinite detention without trial of Al Arqam members.

And if convicted, they could face a minimum punishment of 5,000 ringgit ($1,960) or be jailed for three years and given six strokes of the cane, Abdul Hamid Othman, a top official in the prime minister’s office, told reporters.

The Al Arqam is also accused of promoting hatred against the state-run religious schools and the Islamic Affairs Department, home ministry secretary- general Abdul Rahim Din said.

Although the group has been peacefully running its communes for several years, it shot into prominence after Al Arqam leader Ashaari Mohammad claimed he had talked to Prophet Mohammad, the founder of Islam.

Ashaari is living in self-imposed exile, and some reports say he is in Thailand.

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