Almost 50 people were arrested in Penang last night following an investigation into a mass prayer gathering that apparently flouted lockdown measures.
Hundreds of individuals, many foreign nationals including those later arrested, violated COVID-19 measures by performing Eid al-Adha prayers outside a surau, or religious hall, yesterday morning, footage of which later went viral online.
“They have been arrested to aid ongoing investigations for violating the SOP (standard operating procedure),” Penang police chief Mohd Shuhaily Mohd Zain said in a Tuesday night statement.
He said they would be investigated for violating sections 269 and 270 of the Penal Code, the violation of which can lead to jail time and fines. The home minister added that any foreign nationals found guilty face deportation.
Police chief Shuhaily said 48 of those arrested were Bangladeshi nationals, while one was a Malaysian. Earlier yesterday, he apologized for failing to prevent the gathering, saying that only 100 were allowed inside the surau. After being turned away as the venue was at capacity, many assembled outside to pray.
Shuhaily pinned the blame on “foreigners.”
“The management of the surau then instructed those unable to enter to disperse from the area before they closed the gates,” he said. “However, the foreigners involved performed their prayers on the street outside, within the vicinity of the surau.”
The surau management did not contact the police, he added, because they wanted to avoid provoking any religion-based issues, and hoped the foreign nationals would disperse.
Eid al-Adha is a public holiday commemorating the sacrifices made by Prophet Ibrahim in Islam, the official religion of Malaysia. Health workers recorded 12,366 new COVID-19 cases and 93 deaths yesterday, numbers which have been fluctuating between 10,000 and 12,000 in recent weeks.
Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin chimed in yesterday in a statement warning that stern action would be taken against offenders, up to and including kicking foreign nationals out of the country.
The Penang Islamic Religious Council limited Eid al-Adha prayers to no more than 150 worshipers at state and district mosques, 100 at kariah mosques, and 50 at suraus.
Meanwhile, the national news agency reported that Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin joined a congregation of about 300 for Eid al-Adha prayers at the National Mosque in Kuala Lumpur in compliance with COVID-19 procedures.
Muhyiddin and his wife, Noorainee Abd Rahman, were received by religious affairs minister Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri and National Mosque grand imam Ehsan Mohd Hosni.