The Malaysia government should respect the right to free expression and immediately reverse its ban on a book, Allah, Liberty and Love, by Canadian Muslim writer Irshad Manji, Human Rights Watch has said.
Home Affairs Minister Hishammuddin Hussein banned the book, which deals with the reconciliation of faith and freedom, because it is “prejudicial to morality and public order,” according to the Federal Government Gazette on 29 May 2012.
“Banning books is nothing short of cowardly,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Malaysian society is fully capable of discussing the issues of the day without the government telling them what they can or can’t read.”
Deputy Home Affairs Minister Abu Seman Yusop said that Allah, Liberty and Love was banned because it “is believed to have elements that can deviate Muslims from their faith, Islamic teachings and elements which insulted Islam and has received numerous complaints”. He added that a report from the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (Jakim) indicated that the book had elements that “could confuse the public”.
On 29 May, some 20 officers from the Selangor Islamic Affairs Department (Jais) with a warrant from an Islamic (Shariah) court, raided the offices of ZI Publications, which published the Malay language edition of the book. They seized about 180 copies and took Ezra Zaid, the publisher, to Jais headquarters in the town of Shah Alam. He was released on RM1800 (US$570) bail and has not yet been charged.
Under the Printing Presses and Publications Act, the home affairs minister has “absolute discretion” to ban books. The ban, effective throughout Malaysia, extends to possession of the book in either Malay or English and to its “importation, production, reproduction, publishing, sale, issue, circulation, [and] distribution”. The ban also extends to “copies, extracts, translation, précis, and paraphrasing”.
Manji arrived in Malaysia on 15 May to take part in a promotional book tour, but learned that scheduled events had been cancelled, in part due to government pressure. Manji’s first book, The Trouble with Islam Today, published in 2004, also was controversial.
The ban on Allah, Liberty and Love violates the right to freedom of expression as provided under article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Free expression entails the right both to impart and receive information and ideas, Human Rights Watch said.
“Malaysian authorities say they are protecting morality by banning Manji’s book, but this is just old-fashioned state repression,” Pearson said. “Malaysia will have a stronger claim to being a rights-respecting democracy that deserves its seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council once it starts permitting Malaysians the right to seek information and to hold opinions without interference.”