Malaysia debates controversial bill

MY-passupporters-620-March2015 Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) supporters pray during an election rally in Kedah, Malaysia, June 1, 2012.

An Islamic party and leading member of Malaysia’s opposition bloc on Wednesday introduced a bill in the Kelantan state assembly that proposes harsh penalties for violations of the state’s sharia criminal code.

But the so-called hudud bill, sponsored by the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), is encountering widespread criticism from beyond the northeastern state, including from within the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) coalition.

The issue has ratcheted tensions between PAS and a key partner, the multiracial, secular Democratic Action Party (DAP).

The DAP, along with other critics of PAS’s proposed amendment to Kelantan’s sharia code, warns that its passage in the state legislature – which the Islamic party controls – could do much harm at the national level.

"The DAP protests vehemently the action of Kelantan PAS that … is tantamount to an act of provocation to break up Pakatan Rakyat," Agence France-Presse quoted Anthony Loke Siew Fook, the party's national organizing secretary, as saying in an emailed statement.

Amputations, stonings and crucifixions

Malaysia’s states function on a dual-legal system. There are both sharia courts and parallel courts modeled on the British system.

Yet the constitution guarantees that Malaysia will remain a secular nation where people from different religions can co-exist and practice their faiths freely.

Malaysia’s population has a predominantly Muslim Malay majority and non-Muslim ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities.

The state bill proposes harsh punishments such as amputations, stoning and crucifixion for Muslims found guilty of violating Kelantan’s sharia law.

Sharia law is supposed to apply to Muslims only.

PAS officials have issued statements in recent weeks assuring non-Muslims that they would be immune from prosecution and punishment under Kelantan’s amended set of hudud procedures.

Last month, Kelantan State Deputy Mentri Besar Datuk Mohd Amar Abdullah told reporters that the faith-based party would not give up in pushing for the hudud amendments.

“Although we have waited 23 years, we are still patient in our struggle to see to it that hudud is implemented in Kelantan as the supreme law and nothing is going to stop us, including our allies in PR,” the Star Online quoted the PAS official as saying.

Once the bill passes, PAS is expected to introduce a private member’s bill in Parliament “to pave the way for the Islamist party to implement hudud by amending the Federal Constitution,” the Malaysian Insider reported Wednesday.


Critics charge that implementing and enforcing the amendment at the state level could ultimately divide the nation along religious and ethnic lines.

“We are of the opinion that this move is not consistent with the Federal Constitution …,” twenty-two civil society groups, representing an array of faiths and ethnicities, said in an open letter published in the Malay Mail Online on Tuesday.

“… We would like to call for an open discourse and debate on the issue of hudud. As the implementation of hudud will, without any doubt, affect all Malaysians regardless of religious affiliation, ethnic background or state of residence, all Malaysians should be allowed to discuss the issue as all are stakeholders of this country,” said the groups.

The signatories included the Islamic Renaissance Front, JIHAD for Justice, various Chinese organizations, the Tamil Foundation and the National Indian Rights Action Team.

“Non-Muslims should not be silenced just because they are allegedly not affected by the Islamic laws. Any Muslim who wishes to be involved in the discussion should also be allowed to do so without their religious credentials being questioned,” the letter went on to say.

Some legal experts agreed that amending and enforcing the Islamic law in Kelantan could unleash wider problems.

"It would not be helpful to national unity to create marked distinctions between Muslims and non-Muslims," The Star Online quoted Andrew Khoo, the Malaysian Bar Council's Human Rights Committee chairman, as saying.

Calls for moderation

It remained unclear whether Malaysia’s ruling United Malays National Organization (Umno) party was going to oppose the bill.

Md. Alwi Che Ahmad, a Kelantan assemblyman and Umno information chief for the state, said that Umno’s state bloc would endorse PAS’s proposed bill, “because of Allah and not because of politics,” according to the Malaysian Insider.

But two Umno allies in the Barisan Nasional (National Front) ruling coalition oppose the proposal.

On Wednesday, the youth wing of the multi-ethnic Malaysian People’s Movement Party – better known as Gerakan – lodged a motion at the high court in Kota Bharu, the capital of Kelantan, to challenge the constitutionality of the state’s sharia criminal code.

“We believe there are no provisions in our Federal Constitution for the implementation of hudud laws in Malaysia. It was also never agreed when Malaysia was formed,” Gerakan Youth chief Tan Keng Liang said, according to Malay Mail Online.

The Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), one of the other parties in the ruling bloc, adamantly opposes the bill.

In a speech on Sunday, MCA President Liow Tiong Lai cited the bill as he warned about the rise of religious extremism in Malaysia.

The country’s current leadership “must immediately begin to harness national unity among our multiracial communities and find a way for Malaysia to rediscover the spirit of moderation planted by our founding fathers,” he said.

By BenarNews staff with details from news reports.


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