KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian government has thrown its support behind an Islamic penal code that seeks to expand the jurisdiction of Shariah Courts by including harsh punishments like amputations and stoning, creating discontent among ethnic allies including the Malaysia Indian Congress.
United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which forms the majority party in the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional, backed the tabling of a bill in this regard by opposition Islamic fundamentalist PAS party.
Barisan Nasional’s component parties, including the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) and the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), have vocally opposed the implementation of hudud law.
MIC president S Subramaniam said the private member s bill submitted by PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang would subvert the constitutional rights to equality and protection from retrospectively harsher punishments. The Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) said it was deeply disappointed that UMNO MPs helped to fast track the proposed amendments.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak was quick to defend the UMNO support saying the private members’ bill proposed by PAS president was not about hudud or the criminal jurisdiction issue.
The Prime Minister said there was a “misunderstanding” on the nature of the Bill.
He said the proposed bill only touched on the caning punishment meted out by the Islamic Shariah Courts. “It is what is called enhanced punishment and depends on the nature of the crime.”
He added the matter only concerned the Muslims in the country. Sixty per cent of Malaysians are Muslims.
Najib said the implementation of the bill would not only need Parliament’s consent, but also the approval of the state Islamic Department and the Rulers Council. He added that he had explained the nature of the bill to the other component parties in Barisan Nasional. The Bill seeks to amend the Shariah Court (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965.
Islamist party PAS has tried to push through these amendments to the 1965 Shariah Courts criminal jurisdiction act several times, but they had never made it into the House of Representatives. Amid the backlash, UMNO members have tried to downplay the move.
Deputy Prime Minister Zahid Hamidi said if the amendments pass, they would only apply to Muslims in the state of Kelantan.
PAS governs that state and amendments to the Shariah Courts Act were needed for it to implement an Islamic criminal code there.
However, lawyers say the amendments would actually expand the legal jurisdiction of Shariah Courts across the country, not just in Kelantan.
Under Shariah or Islamic law, the courts will be empowered to dole out punishments that could include stoning or amputations.
Opposition party Democratic Action Party (DAP) felt these expansion of powers violated the federal constitution.