Increasing powers of Shariah Courts may lead to violation of human rights in Malaysia — JAG

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Source: The Malay Mail Online

MAY 31 — The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) express our concern at the tabling of the Private Member’s Bill to amend the Shariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965, to increase the punishments meted out by Shariah courts.

We are concerned of the manner in which this Private Members’ Bill was tabled in Parliament.  JAG urges that the government and the other parties involved give full regard to the democratic way which we must observe in putting forward any legislation, particularly where the public has significant concerns.  Considering the level of debate this has generated in the public sphere, JAG requests that any future tabling of this Private Members’ Bill or anything akin to it go through a thorough process which accords full and fair transparency and debate prior to its tabling in Parliament.  It is our right as citizens of this country to be given our opportunity to present our views on a legislation that will have deep impact on our society in the future.

Presently, Shariah courts’ criminal jurisdiction is subject to limits imposed by federal law of a maximum sentence of three years’ imprisonment, maximum fine of RM5000 and whipping up to six strokes, often referred to as the “3:5:6 Rule”. This proposed amendment would now also allow Shariah Court judges to sentence whipping up to 100 strokes for accusations of engaging in illicit sex and up to 80 strokes for consumption of alcohol. Although religious authorities in Malaysia are keen to stress that whippings under Shariah are ‘light’ and are not meant to hurt as whippings in our criminal justice system do inflict; it should be pointed out that this is a Malaysian interpretation.  In Muslim majority countries which have Shariah sanctioned whippings, the same guarantee is not necessarily present.

We are specifically concerned that the amendments may lead to a significant degradation of human rights.  We are of the opinion that Shariah laws have been applied in a discriminatory fashion, often victimizing the minority sects of our society.  We are of the opinion that the role of the state in enforcing an individual’s practice of the Muslim faith needs to be urgently relooked to remove further abuses under the name of the religion. Increasing punishments will only place a temporary bandage on open wounds within the society and may cause more societal harm in the long run.

Further, these disturbing developments do not uphold the compassionate and merciful nature of Islam (mawaddah wa rahmah) as it focuses merely on punishments with less to no room for forgiveness and repentance. The notion that these punishments absolve the alleged perpetrators of sins cannot be supported because punishments do not necessarily lead to restorative justice, not for the perpetrators and not for the victims.

As opposed to amending the powers of Shariah courts, we call for the review of the Shariah Criminal Offences (SCO) laws of Malaysia. There needs to be a clear line on its jurisdictions and overhaul of laws that violate our fundamental liberties as enshrined under the Federal Constitution of Malaysia.

*This statement is issued by Aliah Ali, Communications Officer of Sisters in Islam, on behalf of the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) that comprises:

  1. Sisters in Islam (SIS)
  2. Women’s Centre for Change (WCC)
  3. Association of Women Lawyers (AWL)
  4. All Women’s Action Society (AWAM)
  5. Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
  6. Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti (Empower)
  7. Perak Women for Women (PWW)
  8. Sabah Action Women Resource Group (SAWO)
  9. Justice for Sisters
  10. Tenaganita
  11. Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor (PSWS)