Review constitutionality of shariah criminal laws, A-G told

Gan Pei Ling

Sisters in Islam executive director Rozana Isa says that a personal and private sin should not be treated as a crime against the state. – The Malaysian Insight pic by Najjua Zulkefli, September 12, 2018.

THE attorney-general must review shariah criminal laws nationwide to ensure they are constitutional and up to international human rights standards, in light of the public furore over the caning of two lesbians, said the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG).  

“We urge all state governments to impose an immediate moratorium on corporal punishment,” said the group in a press conference in Kuala Lumpur today.

They also reiterated their call for Putrajaya to ratify all international human rights conventions, especially the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

JAG is a coalition of 13 women’s rights groups, including Women’s Aid Organisation, Sisters In Islam, Association of Women Lawyers, Sabah Women’s Action Resource Group, and Sarawak Women for Women Society.

Lawyer Honey Tan said states can only make laws as empowered by the federal constitution, the supreme law of the country.

“Just because you have enforced a state law does not mean it is constitutional,” said Tan, adding that the constitution does not give states a free hand to enact shariah criminal laws.

She said Putrajaya can lead by example by amending the Shariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 in Parliament.

Sisters in Islam executive director Rozana Isa also said at the press conference that a personal and private sin should not be treated as a crime against the state.

The public caning of a lesbian couple caught about to have sex in a car in Terengganu earlier this month had made international headlines.

Human rights groups had denounced the punishment as torture, but Terengganu and shariah lawyers have insisted it was necessary to deter same-sex relations among Muslims.

This is not the first time women have been publicly caned in Malaysia. The first three cases of public caning of Muslim women were carried out in Sabah between 2014 and 2016, in which the women were convicted of having illicit sex.

JAG submitted a memorandum to Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Attorney-General Tommy Thomas on August 30, after the Terengganu shariah court meted out the maximum punishment on the lesbian couple on August 12, despite it being their first offence and both had pleaded guilty.

“The two women had pleaded guilty. This should be taken as a sign of humility. They should be treated with compassion and forgiven, instead of being made an example of harsh punishment by being given the maximum punishment,” JAG had said in the memorandum. – September 12, 2018.

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