KUALA LUMPUR – November 24, 2016: The debate on the PAS syariah-empowerment Bill has resurfaced after a lull of several months after it was read in Parliament today.
As expected, the contention over its inevitable impact on non-Muslims is one of the most hotly discussed elements
What the Bill will eventually translate into if it goes through the house is still unclear — no finality — as even lawyers who talked to The Mole contradict each other.
Those who insist that the private member’s bill, tabled in May by PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, will not affect non-Muslims argue that it is ludicrous to claim that indeed it will.
“There has never been an instance where a non-Muslim is prosecuted for committing offences punishable by the syariah court,” said lawyer Lukman Sheriff.
He argued that no amount of amendments in the syariah law can affect non-Muslims as they are protected by the federal Constitution.
“Under our constitution, non-Muslims cannot be subjected to syariah criminal laws and syariah courts. Period. It’s a constitutional safeguard as part of our compromise (before Malaya gained independence).”
The Bill, dubbed as Hadi’s Bill, had throughout the year caused a debate spread wide and far, with critics claiming that it is a gateway for PAS to realise its ambition to implement hudud.
Another lawyer, Aidil Khalid, cautioned that it is too premature to simply claim that the Bill will pave the way for hudud.
“The proposed amendments create no new offences under the syariah court’s jurisdiction that was previously unknown under the old Act 355.
“The offences remain the same; the only change proposed is to empower the syariah courts to mete out harsher punishments for serious crimes.”
On concerns of possible overlapping of jurisdictions between the syariah and civil courts over penal matters, Aidil pointed that no such problem has ever happened.
“So why should there be any dissent now just because there is a proposal to enhance the jurisdiction of the syariah courts?” Aidil rhetorically asked.
According to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, Hadi had explained to him that the Bill seeks to increase the number of strokes of caning from six to many more for certain offences within the purview of the syariah courts.
Hadi also assured Najib that the amendments only affect Muslims in Kelantan.
However, two legally trained Gerakan and MCA leaders told The Mole that the Bill will potentially cause the country to be governed by two sets of laws.
“I know it’s not hudud per se but if it is allowed to pass through Parliament, then syriah law will encroach into the jurisdiction of the Penal Code,” said Gerakan deputy youth chief Andy Yong.
Once it happens, Yong, who is a lawyer, insists that officials of the syariah courts may easily argue that they have the authority to prosecute Muslims who commit penal offences such as theft, robbery and rape.
MCA religious harmony bureau chairman Datuk Seri Ti Lian Ker said the objections by non-Muslims against the Bill is not baseless.
“They are sceptical because a lot of outcomes involving child custody cases between Muslims and non-Muslims seem to favour the former,” said Ti.
So if there is a tendency for bias in family law cases, the doubt by the critics is who can guarantee the same will not happen once syariah criminal laws overlap matters under civil courts.