Lovers Caught in Malaysia's Anti-Valentine Drive

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) -- Authorities in Malaysia arrested 26 unmarried Muslim couples in hotel rooms during Operation Valentine - aimed at curbing illegal premarital sex in this conservative country, an officer said Monday.

The couples, most under 30 years old, were detained for sharing rooms early Sunday in the beachside town of Kuantan in eastern Pahang state, said Badaruddin Ahmad Bustami, enforcement assistant director with the state's Islamic department.

State authorities carry out raids each year on Valentine's Day in this Muslim-majority country, where sharia laws make it illegal for unmarried Muslims to meet behind closed doors, Badaruddin said. Doing so constitutes a crime known as "khalwat," or "close proximity," which carries a maximum fine of 1,000 ringgit (US$280) and up to six months in prison.

The sharia laws apply only to Malaysia's Muslims, not to Christian and Hindu citizens who together make up about 40 percent of the population.

Badaruddin said the couples were released but may be charged later with khalwat.

"We don't agree with Muslim couples celebrating Valentine's Day because it's not Malay culture," he said. "Every Valentine's Day, many couples come here and they commit big mistakes under Islam."

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