Published in Malay Mail Online
By Zurairi AR
KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 17 — PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang’s motion for his private member’s Bill to enhance the Shariah courts’ powers is the fourth item in Parliament’s Order Paper for today.
It seeks to amend the Shariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965, also known as Act 355, to empower Islamic courts to enforce any punishment ― except for the death penalty ― provided in Shariah laws for Islamic offences listed under state jurisdiction in the Federal Constitution.
Shariah court punishments are currently limited to jail terms not exceeding three years, whipping of not more than six strokes, or fines of not more than RM5,000.
Hadi insisted in May that his private member’s Bill aims to expand the range of punishments the Shariah courts can impose, and was not meant to introduce hudud law in Kelantan.
But it has not always been that way.
In May, after the Bill was expedited by Putrajaya, PAS Youth chief Nik Mohamad Abduh Nik Abdul Aziz wrote in PAS mouthpiece Harakah that amending Act 355 will ultimately pave the way to implement Quranic laws in Malaysia.
“Act 355 is a prison against implementing the true Islamic Shariah laws. The laws bow down to the Federal Constitution, whose powers exceed the sovereignty of Quran and the Prophet’s teachings. It is obviously against Islam. It is an obvious idolatry.
“Amending it will break the chains that bind,” Nik Abduh said, referring to the same Act that Hadi’s Bill seeks to amend.
Here is a timeline of how amending Act 355 turned from one of the steps in implementing the controversial Islamic penal code, to ostensibly a resolution to strengthen the Shariah courts:
A paper titled “Upgrading the Position of Shariah Courts and Judges in Malaysia” was tabled in the National Council for Islamic Religious Affairs Malaysia (MKI) on August 22, 2011 to elevate Shariah courts to equal status with their civil counterparts. Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) director-general Tan Sri Othman Mustapha admitted this in November 2014.
End of 2013
Then attorney-general Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail reportedly mooted the idea of strengthening the Shariah courts during a meeting that included Tan Sri Sheikh Ghazali Abdul Rahman, the head of Shariah section in the Attorney-General’s Chambers.
The meeting was recounted in an August 2016 interview with Parti Amanah Negara’s newspaper by lawyer Dr Zulqarnain Luqman, a member of the Federal Technical Committee that drafted a roadmap towards the implementation of hudud.
Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, then deputy prime minister, suggested a technical committee on hudud on April 28, 2014 after PAS made public its attempt to table a private member’s Bill to amend Act 355 to remove one of the barriers to implement hudud in Kelantan, as reported by Sinar Harian.
Minister in charge of religious affairs Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom announced a Federal Technical Committee on hudud following a meeting with Kelantan PAS representatives on May 3, 2014.
PAS decided to put its private member’s Bill on hold to allow the bi-partisan committee to study and provide suggestions on how best to enforce hudud in Kelantan.
A working paper by the committee was later leaked, in which it suggested amending Act 355 to allow the courts to mete out unconventional punishments, before incorporating hudud into the Penal Code to be applied on all Malaysians.
The Technical Committee held its first meeting on July 17, 2014, which also included eight representatives from Kelantan, as reported by state news agency Bernama.
Amendments to Act 355 were tabled in a meeting of the MKI on December 15, 2014 which was chaired by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, according to Zulqarnain and PAS MP Datuk Mahfuz Omar.
The Technical Committee also held its last meeting between December 18 and 21, to finalise several details before any Bill is presented in Parliament, Bernama reported.
A roadmap for implementing hudud nationwide was scheduled to be presented to the Conference of Rulers, as revealed by Prof Dr Shamrahayu Abd Aziz, a law lecturer who was a member of the Technical Committee, in a forum in May 2015.
In the original plan, the amendment to Act 355 would then be tabled in Dewan Rakyat by a minister, to simplify and fast-track the process.
The presentation ultimately did not happen as the AGC purportedly wanted to amend it. Zulqarnain divulged that the roadmap was rejected by the Conference of Rulers in an initial meeting as it allegedly included a proposal to upgrade the current three-tier Shariah courts system to a five-tier system.
On March 14, 2015, Kelantan announced its attempt to amend its Shariah Criminal Code (II) Enactment (Kelantan) 1993 in the state legislative assembly, to pave way for implementation of hudud in the PAS-controlled state.
PAS secretary-general Datuk Takiyuddin Hassan then said that PAS would let Putrajaya table the amendment to Act 355, while it would table a private member’s Bill to amend Article 76A (1) of the Federal Constitution to empower the state government to implement the Shariah penal code.
However, Hadi later served notice of his attempt to table a private member’s Bill to amend Act 355 himself on March 18. The move has since been criticised as “impatient” by Shamrahayu.
A day later, Kelantan passed the amendment to Shariah Criminal Code (II) Enactment (Kelantan) 1993, after 43 PAS and Umno lawmakers voted for it. The sole state PKR lawmaker abstained.
Hadi’s private member’s Bill appeared for the first time in Parliament’s Order Paper on April 7, 2015. It did not manage to be debated as the house ended its sitting two days later.
The Bill appeared again in the Order Paper for the sitting in June. Nothing came of it then, either.
Tabling of the Bill had been stymied after four Malaysians filed a lawsuit to block Hadi from doing so. Their lawsuit was struck out by a High Court on November 9.
In a shock move, Umno Minister Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said tabled a motion on May 26, which pushed up Hadi’s Bill from the bottom of the Dewan Rakyat’s agenda to the top. She explained in June that the order came from the prime minister and his deputy.
On the same day, Hadi asked for the Bill to be deferred to the lower House’s next meeting in October.
In the debate the following months, both PAS and Umno staunchly denied that the Bill has anything to do with hudud, following continued uproar from non-Muslims, even from Barisan Nasional (BN) component parties.
BN secretary-general Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Mansor said on October 1 that the ruling coalition has achieved a consensus on the Bill, but leaders of its components admitted they were clueless about such a thing.
Yesterday, MIC said BN has a “solution” to deal with the Bill, but did not divulge any details.
If the Bill gets passed, the ball will then be in Putrajaya’s court and a minister can then decide whether to table it as a Government Bill, eventually putting up a vote in Dewan Rakyat whether to pass the amendment to Act 355.