Sharia court jails woman for changing ex-husband’s visitation dates with children

Ronnie Bergmann and Noah Lee
2022.06.27
Kuala Lumpur
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Sharia court jails woman for changing ex-husband’s visitation dates with children Emilia Hanafi (in white) arrives at the Kuala Lumpur Sharia High Court, June 27, 2022.
S. Mahfuz/BenarNews

Starting Monday, a Malaysian single mother of three is spending a week behind bars for rescheduling her ex-husband’s visitation dates with their children, a move considered contempt of court under Islamic law which governs Muslim families in the country.

Emilia Hanafi, the former wife of a businessman from a wealthy Malaysian family, surrendered to the Kuala Lumpur Sharia Court on Monday morning and was sent to a women’s prison in Selangor state.

“I am disappointed because I have to go to prison because of this injustice. I tried to sort this out via judicial review, but my stay application was rejected. The court wanted to hear from both parties instead and the date was set for July 20,” she said in a Sunday Instagram post.

“To simplify [matters] I am surrendering but I am doing it in protest. … My focus is always on my children and I am doing this for all my three sons. Hope someone will look into these sharia cases and do right.”

Emilia had filed for a stay on the sentence in the Kuala Lumpur High Court, challenging the jurisdiction of the city’s sharia court.

The 43-year-old was sentenced in 2019 on her former husband’s application for contempt of court after she rescheduled the dates he could visit their three children.

In April, opposition lawmaker Maria Chin Abdullah was sentenced to seven days in jail for criticizing the court’s sentence, although she obtained a stay pending an appeal filed at the Sharia Court of Appeal. Maria previously said the sentence against Emilia proved that women were treated unfairly under the sharia legal system.

Sisters in Islam

Women’s rights group Sisters in Islam (SIS) said Monday was a dark day for all Muslim women because they had to see what Emilia went through.

“The sharia legal system, which is supposed to uphold justice and safeguard the welfare of oppressed family members, issued an arrest warrant against the mother simply because she had changed a parental visiting date as the children requested,” SIS said in a statement.

The group added that many Muslim women who had sought free legal advice had shared their difficulties in filing alimony, child support and custody cases in sharia court.

Islamic scholar Wan Salim Wan Mohd. Noor said punishment handed to an individual should be decided by taking into account the situation that may have influenced the actions.

“Whoever studies and practices sharia law will understand that the law is based on the characteristics of justice, mercy and wisdom,” he told BenarNews.

“Anything that goes against these values is not Islamic law even if it is sometimes wrongly branded as Islamic law. Thus, anyone who feels that the sentence imposed on him or her by the court is unfair is entitled to apply for his case to be retried at a higher court.”

Lawyer Siti Kassim, who has been working pro bono for Emilia, told BenarNews the sentencing was unnecessary as there were other methods of punishment including a fine.

She said Emilia’s punishment is a clear indication of the court’s unfairness against women.

“I feel there are injustices being done against her and it is important for us to highlight that women are being oppressed,” Siti said.

Meanwhile, Akberdin Abdul Kader, the lawyer for Emilia’s ex-husband, S. M. Faisal, said she kept changing the visiting schedule.

“Emilia cannot unilaterally change the visiting schedule or unilaterally decide when the father can visit the children and take the children out of the country without the agreement of the father,” he told BenarNews.

“Too many chances were given. … The mother, however, has not been cooperative in making the visits possible as ordered by the court.”

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