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Malaysian Shi'ites Appeal for Protection From Persecution

Leaders of Malaysia's Shi'ite Muslim community have appealed to the nation's human rights commission for protection against persecution because of their faith.

Rights commission officials said Tuesday that Shi'ite community leaders are upset after 200 of their members were arrested at a prayer meeting earlier this month. Shi'ite leaders say the sect has about 40,000 followers in Malaysia who practice their religion mainly in secret.

Malaysia, where nearly two-thirds of the population is Muslim, is generally tolerant of other religions. But it allows only the mainstream Sunni branch of Islam, barring other forms of Islam as deviant cults.

Sunni Islam is dominant across the globe, but Shi'ites account for about 15 percent of Muslims worldwide, and are a majority in a few countries, including Iraq and Iran.

The French news agency quotes an unidentified government official saying the 200 Shi'ites arrested this month have been released on bail. AFP says they included Pakistanis, Iranians and Indonesians.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.