Malaysia Valentine's Day raids lead to mass arrests

Women shout slogans for the anti-Valentine's Day Campaign, near Kuala Lumpur on 11 February 2011 Muslims make up nearly two-thirds of Malaysia's 28 million population

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Islamic morality police in Malaysia have arrested more than 80 Muslims in an operation to stop them celebrating Valentine's Day.

Officers raided budget hotels in the central state of Selangor and capital, Kuala Lumpur, detaining unmarried Muslim couples who were sharing rooms.

The religious authorities in Malaysia say Valentine's Day is synonymous with immoral activities.

Those arrested could be jailed for up to two years if convicted.

The anti-Valentine's Day campaign by the country's Islamic authorities goes back to a fatwa issued in 2005.

'Not suitable'

On Monday evening, religious enforcement officers launched co-ordinated raids, targeting budget hotels and public parks in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur.

In Selangor alone, officials said 80 people were detained for khalwat or close proximity - an Islamic law that prevents unmarried Muslims from being alone with someone of the opposite sex.

In the capital, officials detained 16 mainly teenage Muslims, who had paid about 50 ringgit (£9) for a hotel room for two hours, according to a report from the AFP news agency.

The raids stem from a campaign launched last week by the religious authorities, called Mind the Valentine's Day Trap.

The government-run Department of Islamic Development said Valentine's Day was "synonymous with vice activities" and that it contravened Islamic teachings.

Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin had labelled Monday's celebration as "not suitable" for Muslims.

Other faiths were not affected by the boycott in a country where Muslims make up nearly two-thirds of the 28 million population.

But not all Malaysian Muslims agreed with the campaign, with some saying Valentine's Day is harmless.

Human rights groups say actions such as the Valentine's Day ban harm Malaysia's image as a moderate and progressive Muslim-majority state.

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