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Monday, November 21, 2016

An open letter to all Members of Parliament

I am writing to you on the amendment to the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 or Act 355 that PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang proposes to table in this sitting of the Dewan Rakyat.
I know we are all busy with the aftermath of Bersih, and the arrest of our friends, but please read on. Today, there will be a special briefing for Muslim MPs on the Act 355. In other words, while you are busy with Bersih, they will slip in hudud. That’s why the non Muslims MPs are not important.
I hear that Hadi’s bill will be moved on Nov 24. I may be wrong but that’s what I heard. I know PAS and Umno MPs will just follow their leaders - as they always do - blindly and without dwelling on the consequences of their actions, but the rest of you can still defeat the Hudud Bill if you want to.
I respectfully ask that you consider the following:
1. This Bill will cause grave and untold suffering to Malays/ Muslims, who may include your sons, daughters and grandchildren. This is not just about adding a few more strokes of the rotan, as your prime minister would like CNN to believe. He is not telling you the truth.
This amendment could mean the amputation of limbs, long-term jail sentences and a more liberal use of the cane. The prime minister cannot even say in what manner this caning will be done. He has not visited any of the syariah courts to witness either the procedure for amputation or caning for himself. He and his family will probably never have to appear in the syariah court, so he does not care.
2. You are not told that with the bill, jail sentences can be imposed without any limitations. You may not think one of your grandchildren may be mistakenly charged in court for stealing a bicycle, but should such mistakes happen, what makes you think they will not have to serve a jail sentence or have a limb amputated? Do you want to take that risk?
Let’s look at the way justice is meted out at present. Let’s remove the label “Islamic” and really see the way justice is administered in the syariah courts now.
There are thousands of Muslim women who have been waiting for years for their divorce to be finalised, or for the courts to decide on their rights to maintenance or custody. Do you think these same courts have shown that they are ready to receive more powers to impose heavier punishments, just because someone like Hadi calls it Islamic law?
They do not tell not tell you how many investigation officers will be available at the syariah courts or where they will be trained. They do not tell you how many prosecution officers are ready to take up these cases. They do not tell you about the qualifications and ability of the syariah prosecutors and judges, who will become more powerful under this amendment to Act 355.
3. A few days ago Hadi said the proposed amendment to Act 355 was not about hudud at all. If that is the case, then why should Muslim MPs feel that they have an obligation to support his bill? Why then a special briefing?
In Kelantan, he said the opposite, that this was about hudud. He even organised a munajat public prayer for Muslims. He will tell you that the bill has been watered down. In this special briefing, they will tell you that they will be safeguards, but ask for details. No, its not a watered down version they are giving you, it’s a camouflage.
They will tell you that Muslims have serious social problems; that there are more than 300,000 children born out of wedlock, and that more than 100 babies dumped every year. They will tell you that more than 50,000 divorces took place last year.
The solution is, however, not to send them to jail for long period; or to impose canning. The root cause must be found, and that’s what a responsible government needs to do. Hadi’s prescription is not the way to help them.
4. If you care about the fate of ordinary Malays/Muslims in this country, you must oppose this amendment. It’s not Islamic law, just bad law. Do not feel guilty or fear that you may be committing a grave sin. In fact, it will be sinful to support a law that is being ushered in with no information, public discussion or thought to its consequences.
We still struggle to get justice
We have had our civil courts for a long time and yet we still struggle to get justice. Do we want to start another system and give such powerful sentencing powers without thinking about how it can result in the miscarriage of justice? Are we willing to do that just because someone has labelled it God’s law?
5. To the non-Muslims MPs, do not worry that Hadi and others may accuse you of attacking Islam. They are an arrogant bunch who think they are the only ones who can represent Islam. Act 355 is just another law and it is a very bad law. It’s your duty to oppose the bill, even if the law does not directly apply to you or your community. You have a duty to fight for justice for all Malaysians.
6. Finally, to the MPs who are supporting Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Muhyiddin Yassin: I know you are eager to please Hadi and PAS. But in supporting Hadi’s bill, you are really only supporting Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak. This bill would have never seen the light of day without Najib’s support. Do you not see that?

Please recognise that amending Act 355 will be a betrayal to the Malays. Malays and the country will never forgive you for this trade-off. You will not lose Malay votes if you care to explain the consequence of Hadi’s law to them. Malays are not stupid people.
I won the Kota Bharu seat - a conservative constituency and PAS’s ideological headquarters - for Umno, even though I had opposed Kelantan’s Syariah Criminal Code II Enactment 1993 in the Federal Court some 15 years before. They slammed me for being anti-Islam and anti-hudud, and called me a drunkard.
However, I survived and I won. So can you.

ZAID IBRAHIM is a former minister, in charge of law. This piece was originally published in his blog.-Mkini

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