Aim of Bill to 'uplift status of Syariah courts'

President of Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) Abdul Hadi Awang.
President of Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) Abdul Hadi Awang.PHOTO: NEW STRAITS TIMES PRESS

PAS chief says Bill tabled misunderstood and not meant to introduce Islamic criminal laws

SABAK BERNAM, Selangor • The so-called hudud Bill raised in the Malaysian parliament last week, causing a political uproar, was not meant to introduce Islamic criminal law but intended to "uplift" the status of Syariah courts, the president of Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) Abdul Hadi Awang said yesterday.

His clarification followed comments on Friday by Prime Minister Najib Razak that there was a misunderstanding on what the Bill was about, including by members of the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition.

Four of the 13 BN coalition parties issued a statement on Friday to say they are against the Bill being brought up, seeing it as the first step towards introducing Islamic criminal law that includes amputation and stoning.

Non-Muslim non-governmental organisations have also issued statements to oppose the hudud Bill.

The issue became a hot potato after Datuk Seri Hadi was allowed to table the Bill on Thursday, on the last day of the parliament session until it sits next in October. The PAS chief, who is an MP, said he will debate the Bill at the next session.

"This is not a hudud Bill. Many people do not understand that," Mr Hadi told a press conference late on Friday, as quoted by the Malay Mail Online news site. "What I see is there is an agenda by the DAP to try and portray Islam in a bad light," he added, referring to Chinese-led opposition party, the Democratic Action Party (DAP).

Datuk Seri Najib had told a separate news conference on Friday: "I would like to clarify to our friends in Barisan Nasional that there was a misunderstanding... When Abdul Hadi tabled the bill, people assumed it's for hudud.

"I would like to state that it is not for the implementation of hudud. It is just to give the Syariah courts enhanced punishments. From six-strokes caning to a few more, depending on the offences."

Under Malaysia's legal system, the Syariah courts can currently mete out what are called the 3-5-6 maximum punishments. These are three years' jail, a RM5,000 (S$1,700) fine, or six strokes of the rotan.

The Malaysia Muslim Youth Movement yesterday called on the Bill to be discussed in-depth including with non-Muslims. Not convinced by the explanations, two Chinese Cabinet members yesterday threatened to quit if the Bill is passed by Parliament. They are Transport Minister and president of the Malaysian Chinese Association Liow Tiong Lai and Minister in the Prime Minister's Department and Gerakan chief Mah Siew Keong, The Star newspaper reported yesterday.

Datuk Seri Mah said while Gerakan respects the position of Islam as Malaysia's official religion, it is concerned about Mr Hadi's attempt to bypass constitutional principles to implement Islamic criminal law.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 29, 2016, with the headline 'Aim of Bill to 'uplift status of Syariah courts''. Print Edition | Subscribe