Four Finns arrested by the Malaysian police for preaching the Christian faith in violation of the predominantly Muslim nation's anti-missionary laws have been released and have arrived in their home country, the newspaper Hufvudstadsbladet reported.
At Helsinki-Vantaa Airport, the missionaries were greeted by a cheerful crowd, which included Christian activists singing hymns as well as politicians from the Christian Democrats and the Finns party.
'God heard our prayers, that's why we were released', Timo Valtonen, one of the missionaries, told Hufvudstadsbladet.
According to the Valtonen, they were arrested in their hotel room, from where the police brought them to one of the country's most notorious prisons. Describing their eight-day prison ordeal, Valtonen claimed they were tortured by Malaysian officials.
'We weren't given enough to drink, suffered from dehydration, and had to sleep on a hard cement floor riddled with cockroaches', Timo Valtonen said. 'At night, we heard screams from other prisoners who were beaten with bamboo poles', says Valtonen.
Timo Valtonen, himself a member of the nationalist Finns party and former campaign manager, claimed ignorance of Malaysia's harsh laws.
'All we did was share pens with the text "Jesus is the way, the truth and the life" [John 14]. I did not understand that this was illegal', Timo Valtonen said, showing one of the pens. 'We were mocked for our faith, but our prayers were heard', he added, thanking the Malaysian authorities for the release and the Finnish embassy for their efforts.
Finns MP Mika Niikko, however, was not as understanding. According to him, the Finnish diplomats had to wait six days to visit the prisoners, who were also denied contacts with their embassy, which he called 'unacceptable'.
Malaysia is over 60 percent Muslim, 20 percent Buddhist and less than 10 percent Christian. Christianity has become increasingly restricted, with Malaysia becoming more Islamic. Restrictions are in place on the construction of new churches. Attempts to convert Muslims are not allowed, and Christian literature has to include warnings 'for non-Muslims only'.
'Malaysia does not respect religious freedom or human rights. In Finland, we do not have such problems. Here, you can hand out brochures about Islam as much as you wish', Valtonen said.
He also stressed that Finland remains open for those who are persecuted.
'First and foremost, we welcome Christian asylum seekers. Those who get in trouble in Malaysia', he concluded.