UPDATE: Malaysia: Intimidation of Sisters in Islam: Silencing Alternative Viewpoints

Sisters in Islam

On February 18, the Malaysian Home Minister announced the whipping of three Muslim women for illicit sex. This came as a shock to many Malaysians as several conflicting issues raised over the whipping sentence of Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno for drinking alcohol in public have not yet been resolved. Following this, Sisters in Islam (SIS) and its partners in the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) issued a statement in protest against the whipping, maintaining that we believe it is unjust, inhumane and unconstitutional. Please see attached for full statement. Update on Malaysia: Harassment of Sisters in Islam for questioning 'Syariah' caning of 3 women

Under the Malaysian Criminal Procedure Code, no woman can be whipped for any offence, yet these three women were whipped under the Syariah Criminal Offences Act. Furthermore, Article 8 of the Federal Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, religion and gender. The whipping of these three women clearly violates these constitutional guarantees.

The police informed SIS that reports had been lodged against us. One of the reports filed was by the Selangor Islamic Religious Council because they were ‘dissatisfied’ with our statement. The police would thus like to question us under Section 298 (A) of the Penal Code for “causing, etc., disharmony, disunity, or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will, or prejudicing, etc., the maintenance of harmony or unity, on grounds of religion.”

As with the Kartika case when 50 police reports were made against SIS for issuing a statement questioning the fairness of the Pahang Syariah Court’s decision, these new reports are seen as further attempts to intimidate and harass SIS, and to stop any alternative views on Islam and Islamic law from being expressed. What is different this time is that a state government religious authority is making these reports, not merely political pressure groups who called themselves NGOs that are opposed to our views.

This highlights an alarming trend towards the suppression of freedom of speech in Malaysia, thus narrowing the public space for discussion, debate and dissent on matters of public interest.  At the same time as police reports were made against SIS, the Home Ministry threatened The Star newspaper with possible withdrawal of its printing and publishing permit because its Managing Editor had questioned the wisdom of the whippings. The Star unfortunately capitulated by withdrawing the article and subsequently also refused to publish a column on the same subject by Marina Mahathir, its columnist of 20 years and also a Board member of SIS.

In Malaysia, there is growing intolerance for differing opinions, especially about religion. Such movement towards silencing alternative viewpoints must be halted if Malaysia wants to remain a democracy.

We call upon our friends and supporters overseas to ensure that the Malaysian Government knows the international community is following these developments that run counter to international human rights norms. If Malaysia does not wish to lose its standing as a progressive Muslim nation, it must cease these regressive moves.

10 March 2010

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