Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia is gravely concerned with the private member’s bill which will expand the power of Sharia courts to mete out harsher punishments.
Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia (GBM) believes Islam is a religion of compassion, peace and justice.
While religion is a private matter between the individual and God, religious precepts should be educated rather than imposed by force and harsh punishments, which runs counter to the teaching of Islam as a religion with no compulsion.
GBM thus expresses grave concerns at the tabling of a private member’s bill by Abdul Hadi Awang, member of Parliament for Marang and president of the Pan-Malaysia Islamic Party (Pas), to amend the Sharia Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 and to expand the power of Sharia courts in meting out harsher punishments.
The amendment bill proposes to take away the current limitation of punishment allowed by Sharia courts, namely a maximum sentence of three years’ imprisonment, a maximum fine of RM5,000 and whipping of up to six strokes, and to replace it with a broad and general clause of “punishments permitted under Sharia laws” in relation to the offences under item one of the state list in the ninth schedule of the Federal Constitution, except the death penalty.
GBM is gravely concerned that the broad and general clause of the amendment bill – enabling all forms of punishments permitted under Sharia laws to be meted out – will eventually pave way for hudud punishments, such as amputation for theft and robbery (Sariqah and Hirabah) and stoning for adultery and sodomy, to be implemented.
If the amendment bill is passed, the last remaining hurdle for the implementation of hudud punishments will be the ninth schedule of the Federal Constitution, which requires a two-thirds majority in Parliament to pass any amendment.
This would mark the beginning of a paradigm shift from the 1963 social contract of the formation of Malaysia as a liberal and secular state to a theocratic state with the full body of Sharia laws being implemented gradually.
Such a direction of development is certainly in contradiction with the spirit and principles of the formation of Malaysia and runs counter to the reality of our multi-ethnic, multicultural and multi-religious society.
At this moment, the amendment bill would effectively expand the power of Sharia courts to impose harsher punishments for offences committed by Muslims, save for those criminal offences covered under the federal list.
In other words, this will remove the barrier for the Pas state government in Kelantan to implement some of the punishments in the Sharia Criminal Code that was passed in the Kelantan state assembly in 2015, including whipping of 100 lashes for unmarried offenders for adultery (zina), whipping of 80 lashes for false accusation of adultery (qasaf), whipping of 40-80 lashes for drinking alcohol (syurb), forfeiture of property and imprisonment for an unspecified (irtidad and riddah).
It also opens the floodgates for other states to introduce amendments to their Sharia criminal code to impose harsher punishments for these offences.
While GBM welcomes the dropping of the death penalty as punishment in the amendment bill, we maintain that the punishment of whipping causes serious bodily harm and constitutes a form of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment that is inconsistent with international human rights law, while forfeiture of property is in violation of Article 13 of the Federal Constitution, which protects the right to property.
The country has abolished indefinite detention under the Internal Security Act, and imprisonment for an unspecified period as a form of punishment is unjust and should no longer be accepted.
GBM is also concerned that more injustices may arise with the evidence requirements proposed under the Sharia Criminal Code 2015 of Kelantan, under which only male Muslims have full competence to testify as witnesses in all offences and at least four witnesses are required to prove adultery offences. For instance, a woman who accuses her husband of committing adultery may potentially face a qasaf offence and be punished with 80 lashes of whipping, if she is not able to produce four male witnesses.
Such a demanding evidence requirement poses a high risk of false accusation, especially in a highly patriarchal society. There are also questions as to the weight of scientific evidence and circumstantial evidence given in the Sharia criminal judicial process.
We therefore call on Abdul Hadi Awang to withdraw the private member’s bill.
This statement is endorsed by the following member organisations of GBM:
1. Anak Muda Sarawak (AMS)
3. The Federation of Alumni Associations of Taiwan Universities, Malaysia (FAATUM)
4. The Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (KLSCAH)
5. Kumpulan Aktivis Mahasiswa Independen (Kami)
6. LLG Cultural Development Centre (LLG)
7. Majlis Perundingan Malaysia Agama Buddha, Kristian, Hindu, Sikh dan Taoism (MCCBCHST)
8. National Indian Rights Action Team (Niat)
9. Negeri Sembilan Chinese Assembly Hall (NSCAH)
10. Partners of Community Organisations, Sabah (Pacos Trust)
11. Penang Chinese Town Hall (PCTH)
12. Persatuan Aliran Kesedaran Negara (Aliran)
13. Persatuan Bekas Siswazah Universiti dan Kolej di China, Malaysia (Liu Hua)
14. Persatuan Masyarakat Selangor dan Wilayah Persekutuan (Permas)
15. Pusat Komas
16. Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia (SABM)
17. Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram)
18. Tamil Foundation
19. Tindak Malaysia
20. United Chinese School Alumni Associations of Malaysia (UCSAAM)