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Malaysian state bans 'black metal' music

Mahathir has said he will not allow Malaysia to be ruined by freedom of speech.
Mahathir has said he will not allow Malaysia to be ruined by freedom of speech.  

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- A Malaysian state is to officially declare a form of heavy-metal music forbidden, or "haram," for Muslims.

Southwestern Negri Sembilan state is making the move to support this week's decision by the country's Islamic leaders to outlaw "black metal" because of its impact on youth.

"We will gazette (the decision) as a fatwa (Islamic edict)," Negri Sembilan Chief Minister Mohamed Isa Abdul Samad Mohamed told reporters.

Earlier this month officials said they discovered that a cult, based on heavy-metal music, was promoting anti-social behavior and occultism among youth in some northern states.

Religious leaders said they found "Satanic" objects -- necklaces of skulls and references to animal sacrifices in amateur "fanzines" devoted to what is labeled black metal.

Authorities said this week that all foreign rock groups planning to perform in the country would have to submit a concert video for approval.

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Throughout the week religious and political activists urged authorities to cancel Friday's scheduled concert by veteran German rockers Scorpions, although promoters said the show had been cleared by censors and would go on.

Gathering ban

The heavy-metal crackdown comes as Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad defends a ban on political gatherings and police confirm four more opposition figures have been arrested under harsh internal security laws.

The Malaysian Human Rights Commission has issued a report calling the ban a needless curb on freedom of expression and urged the Malaysian leader to overhaul laws on political gatherings.

The ban, imposed by police on security grounds, has hit opposition parties that gained ground against Mahathir in the 1999 general elections. Human rights groups say it is aimed at stifling dissent against Mahathir's 20-year rule.

Fundamentalists have emerged as the most potent challenger to Mahathir's ruling United Malays National Organization. Both compete for votes among Malay Muslims, the predominant ethnic group in this Southeast Asian nation of 23 million people.

The arrests marked the first time that the Internal Security Act, which allows for detention without trial, has been wielded against the Islamic party in many years.

Changing climate

The country's human rights group, appointed by the government following intense criticism of the sacking and jailing of former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim in 1998, has urged an end to the permit requirements.

Malaysians are increasingly demanding civil and political liberties and it is "imperative for the government to respond to the changing political climate," their report said.

It urged police to show restraint in dispersing rallies, saying there had been numerous complaints of people being assaulted and fired at with chemically laced water.

But their recommendations are not likely to go far as the commission has no enforcement powers and acts only in an advisory capacity.

Mahathir, who has put a priority on political stability and rapid economic development during his long rule, said Friday he would not allow Malaysia to be ruined at the expense of absolute freedom of speech.

The size of protests has fallen hugely from the tens of thousands of people who took to the streets in 1998 after Anwar, the heir-apparent, was sacked and jailed amid disputes with Mahathir over how to handle the Asian economic crisis.

Anwar has been sentenced to prison terms totaling 15 years for corruption and sodomy. He claims he was framed in a conspiracy to prevent him from challenging Mahathir for power. The government denies it.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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