Turkish Scholar Freed After 18 Hours in Malaysian Police Custody

Hadi Azmi
Kuala Lumpur
170926-MY-speech-620.jpg Mustafa Akyol (center, behind microphone) participates in the “Does Freedom of Conscience Open the Floodgate to Apostasy” forum at the Royal Selangor Golf Club, Sept. 24, 2017.
Mustafa Akyol/Twitter

Malaysian police freed a prominent Turkish scholar on Tuesday after holding him for nearly a day over allegations that he preached without the state Islamic authority’s approval and in violation of a Sharia law.

Turkish author and journalist Mustafa Akyol was taken into police custody on Monday for allegedly making religious sermons without obtaining credentials from the Federal Territories Islamic Affairs Department (JAWI).

“I am now free, after 18 hours of detention. Thanks so much for all who helped, supported, and prayed,” Akyol tweeted on Tuesday evening.

He was arrested at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) on Monday night after being barred from boarding a flight to Rome, JAWI said in a statement Tuesday.

Sharia court warrant

Akyol was detained after JAWI received complaints about his participation at the forum, titled “Does Freedom of Conscience Open the Floodgate to Apostasy,” and which took place at the Royal Selangor Golf Club on Sunday, Department Director Abdul Aziz Jusoh said.

JAWI contacted Akyol on Monday to summon him for questioning over an alleged breach of Section 11 of the Sharia Criminal Offenses Act regarding conducting religious teachings without proper credentials, the JAWI director said. Conviction on the charge carries a fine of up to 5,000 ringgit (U.S. $1,188), up to three years in prison or both.

Because Akyol did not respond to the summons, JAWI asked the Kuala Lumpur Sharia Court to issue a warrant for his arrest.

Akyol said he was released Tuesday afternoon after JAWI was satisfied that he was not aware of the law.

“Therefore, JAWI advises any organizers who invite speakers to deliver any talks related to Islam to have the necessary teaching credentials as required by the law of this country,” Abdul Aziz said.

On Monday, Akyol canceled a scheduled lecture at the Nottingham University campus in Kuala Lumpur on “The Islamic Jesus: How the King of the Jews Became a Prophet of the Muslims.”

News site Free Malaysia Today reported Akyol was pressured by Malaysian authorities to call  off the lecture at the last minute

Forum organizer Islamic Renaissance Front’s (IRF) Ahmad Farouk Musa broke the news of Akyol’s arrest through a tweet minutes after it occurred.

“Our guest & renowned international author is being detained in KLIA. We suspect it might have to do with JAWI. Creeping Talibanization,” IRF tweeted Monday night.

In August, IRF criticized the Department of Islamic Development of Malaysia (Jakim) for accusing it of deviating from Islam.

Jakim Director-General Othman Mustapha accused IRF and G25, a pro-moderation group of retired civil servants, of trying to bring liberal and deviant ideas into the country. Jakim highlighted apparent remarks by Muslim scholar Mun’im Sirry on the origins of the Quran, during a seminar in August.

Farouk responded by asking if Jakim thought Muslims could not think for themselves.

“IRF believes in intellectual discourse and critical thinking,” he said. “The whole idea is about thinking and rethinking. Any ideas should be discussed intellectually, not emotionally.”

Scholar distressed

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) said Akyol was distressed and that he wanted to leave the country as soon as possible.

“He says he did not preach, it was an academic conference. He didn’t go to any mosque,” Suhakam commissioner Jerald Joseph told Malay Mail Online.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International Malaysia (AIM) said Akyol’s arrest was concerning and that Malaysian authorities were resorting to heavy-handed measures to silence outspoken academics and dissenting voices.

“The Malaysian government has used various scare tactics, including the use of police investigations and travel bans to stigmatize the work of human rights defenders, critical academics and outspoken individuals,” AIM acting executive director Gwen Lee said in a statement Tuesday night.

N. Nantha in Kuala Lumpur contributed to the report.


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