Malaysian Woman Sentenced to 5 Years for Keeping Pro-Militant Books

Ray Sherman
Kuala Lumpur
2017-04-26
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170426-MY-sentence-620.jpg The parents of Siti Noor Aishah Atam Jusoh, Atam Jusoh (left) and Saadiah Ibrahim are pictured at the offices of a Malaysian human rights NGO Suaram office, in Kuala Lumpur, April 2017.
Razlan Rashid/BenarNews

Updated at 8:16 a.m. ET on 2017-04-27

A Malaysian court convicted and sentenced a former postgraduate student of religion to five years in prison Wednesday on charges of possessing books allegedly promoting the ideology of extremist groups, including Islamic State and al-Qaeda.

The Kuala Lumpur High Court ruled the sentence for defendant Siti Noor Aishah Atam Jusoh be back-dated to her arrest in March 2016 and the 12 books in her possession be destroyed.

“I’m not good at commenting on the decision but will file an appeal within 14 days,” Atam Jusoh, the father of the 30-year-old defendant, told BenarNews.

In sentencing Siti Noor Aishah, a former postgraduate student of Islamic studies at University Malaya, one of Malaysia’s top universities, the judge argued it was unreasonable for the defendant to make the case the books were for her academic research.

“You claimed the books were for your thesis but you never even registered the thesis title,” High Court Judicial Commissioner Mohamad Shariff Abu Samah said.

“This did not make sense at all. You have not been able to prove your seriousness in going through with the course.”

The judge told Siti Aishah to repent.

“Terrorism is a serious crime that is also deplorable. We cannot compromise on this matter, the court views it very seriously,” the judge added.

Siti Aishah was sentenced a day after the high court sent Azizi Abdullah, a 21-year-old shop assistant, to prison for 13 years for possessing pro-IS materials on his mobile phone and posting messages on social media endorsing terrorist acts.

Since 2013, Malaysian authorities have arrested at least 294 people suspected of having links to IS alone, of whom 66 have since been freed, according to government figures obtained by BenarNews.

‘A bright future’

Siti Noor Aishah was convicted under Section 130JB of Malaysia’s Penal Code and the Security Offenses Act (Special Measures) 2012 (Sosma) for possessing items or materials associated with terrorist organizations.

She was represented by attorney Mohd Kamaruzaman A. Wahab while Deputy Public Prosecutor Ahmad Nazneen Zulkifli argued the case on behalf of the people.

Previously, Kamaruzaman had asked for lenient sentence for his client because she is still young.

“Siti Aishah has a bright future. She has now repented. She bought the books because she loves reading, and before the books were banned by the Home Ministry,” the lawyer had said.

Ahmad Nazneen pressed for a tougher sentence, arguing that Siti Aishah and others who support militant groups needed to learn a lesson. The maximum sentence that the defendant faced was seven years.

The books that got her into trouble with the authorities included titles such as “Al-Zarqawi – al-Qaeda’s Second Generation,” “Political Vision of the Jihad Movement,” and “From Osama to Activists at-Large.”

Since her arrest, Siti Aishah was suspended from Universiti Malaya and later expelled for failure to attend classes.

In September 2016, she was acquitted of the charges at the same court. However, on the same day, she was rearrested and detained for 60 days under a different law, the Prevention of Crime Act (POCA).

Upon her release, she was placed under house arrest and fitted with an electronic monitoring device.

A higher court, Court of Appeal then ordered Siti Aishah to enter her defense. On March 29, she was arrested under the Security Offenses (Special Measures) Act 2012 (SOSMA) and placed in Kajang prison.

A father’s agony

After she was arrested the second time, her father held a press conference at the houses of parliament, where he made a plea for his daughter’s release.

The 61-year-old said his daughter had merely been instructed by one of her lecturers to do research on the books that led to her arrest.

“I'm disappointed with what has happened to my daughter. I urge the authorities to release her immediately so that she can continue her studies further,” Atam said, sobbing, according to local reports.

Civil society activists and opposition lawmakers have come to Siti Aishah’s defense, holding candlelight vigils outside Kajang Prison and calling on the Home Ministry to release her.

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