The good news is, this has not been well received. The bad news is, he’s Deputy Prime Minister. “Prescott heaps praise on ‘tolerant’ Malaysia, despite its crumbling human rights,” by Ben Leapman and Jonathan Wynne-Jones for the Telegraph:
He has been lampooned as a lost soul, bumbling around the Far East with his retinue of aides in search of a purpose. John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, today concludes a week-long tour that has taken in Japan, South Korea and China.
Up to now he has kept a low profile. Apart from a speech in Seoul and a school visit in China, he has avoided public engagements and media appearances in favour of private meetings with his foreign counterparts.
But on his final stopover, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital, Mr Prescott broke cover by penning a 1,000-word article for the city’s Star newspaper in which he reveals he wants to learn lessons for Britain about how different faiths live in harmony there. Malaysia is 60 per cent Muslim with sizeable Buddhist, Christian and Hindu minorities. On the surface, the groups live together peacefully. But underneath lies simmering resentment which has led human rights groups to observe that Malaysia treats its minorities unfairly. Christian campaigners in Britain have called his mission wrong-headed.
In his article, published yesterday, he speaks warmly of Islam, adding: “Islam enriches British society in many ways.”
Somewhat bafflingly for his readers, Mr Prescott even digresses into the arcane topic of British motorcycle safety legislation, pointing out that our law allows Sikh bikers to wear turbans instead of helmets. Critics say it is that kind of tolerance that Malaysia lacks. Since the 1970s, the country has operated a “positive discrimination” policy, which gives priority to ethnic-Malay Muslims in applying for civil service jobs or university places.
The Sharia court system, which operates alongside civil courts, should not affect non-Muslims; but it has caused problems for Lina Joy, a Muslim who converted to Christianity. She has spent five years battling for permission to marry her Christian fiancÃ©. And Malik Imtiaz Sarwar, a human rights lawyer, was this year ordered by the government to disband his organisation promoting religious freedom.
Baroness Cox, a human rights campaigner, called Mr Prescott’s praise for Malaysian tolerance “gratuitously misleading”. She said: “There is a great deal of religious discrimination. Christians there are finding that human rights and religious rights are crumbling away.”