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updated: 8/17/2013 11:32 AM

Malaysia punishes Singaporean in prayer room row

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Associated Press

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- Malaysian authorities on Saturday revoked the immigration privileges held by a Singaporean man who offended some Muslims by allegedly letting Buddhists use an Islamic prayer room.

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The case has provoked debate about whether the government in Muslim-majority Malaysia is increasingly bowing to pressure by religious conservatives who want stern penalties against people accused of insulting Islam.

Police detained the Singaporean-born owner of a southern Malaysian beach resort for several days earlier this month after he was believed to have allowed Buddhist tourists to meditate in the resort's Islamic prayer room.

Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the Muslim man has been stripped of his "permanent residency" status that enabled him to live and work in Malaysia without visa requirements.

The man has been released by police and is not formally charged with any crime, but the government's decision was "based on the law in the interests of religion and the nation," Ahmad Zahid wrote on Twitter.

Some Islamic groups accused the man of defiling the prayer room. Nearly two-thirds of Malaysia's 29 million people are Muslims, while the main minorities are Buddhists, Christians and Hindus.

The Singaporean's case is the third in the past two months that involved the detention of people accused of disrespecting Muslim sensitivities.

Last month, prosecutors charged two non-Muslims with sedition and inciting religious enmity after they posted a photograph on Facebook of themselves eating pork while extending greetings during the Islamic holy month of fasting. They face up to eight years in prison if convicted. Consumption of pork is forbidden for Muslims.

Police also temporarily detained a Muslim woman featured in a YouTube video that showed her celebrating the end of the fasting month with her dogs, which some Muslims consider unclean.

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