Fifty-two unmarried Muslim couples face charges of sexual misconduct and possible jail terms after being caught alone in hotel rooms by Malaysia's Islamic morality police during a New Year's Day crackdown, an official said Monday.
Scores of officers fanned out across budget hotels in central Selangor state before dawn on Jan. 1, knocking on doors and detaining unmarried Muslim couples who were sharing rooms, said Hidayat Abdul Rani, a spokesman for the Selangor Islamic Department.
The detained, mostly students and young factory workers, are expected to be charged with "khalwat," or "close proximity," which under Malaysia's Islamic Shariah law is described as couples not married to each other being alone together in a private place.
"We chose to have this large-scale operation on New Year's Day because many people are known to commit this offense while celebrating such a major holiday," Hidayat said.
In Selangor, "khalwat" carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison and a fine.
The Shariah laws apply only to Malaysia's Muslims, who make up nearly two-thirds of the population, and not to the Christian, Buddhist and Hindu minorities.