KUALA LUMPUR: Thousands of Malaysians have gathered at the heart of Kuala Lumpur to support a controversial bill that will strengthen the powers of the Shariah Court.
The rally on Saturday (Feb 18), called Gathering 355 or RUU355, is organised by Islamic party PAS. Supporters dressed in purple turned up in force at Padang Merbok, a field located close to Parliament House.
They’re standing in solidarity with PAS’ call for amendments to be made to the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 (Act 355), to allow the court to mete out harsher punishments for shariah offences. The gathering is also aimed at explaining to the people, specifically Muslims, on the proposed amendments and to correct negative perceptions.
Non-Muslims have nothing to fear from the proposed amendments, said PAS supporters club representative N Bala Subramaniam who was quoted by the New Straits Times. He added that only Muslims who committed crimes and owners of “gambling dens” should be afraid of the proposed amendments.
(Photo: Asif Ishak)
The private members’ bill to amend the Syariah Courts Act was first presented by PAS president Hadi Awang last November.
It seeks to increase the punishment in the Shariah Court to a maximum of 30 years’ imprisonment, a fine of RM100,000 (US$22,400) or 100 lashes of the cane. This is up from the current maximum of three years in jail, RM5,000 or six lashes of the cane, according to The Star newspaper.
Critics of the bill warn that it could pave the way for full implementation of the Islamic penal code or hudud, which prescribes punishments such as amputations and stoning, and disrupt the fabric of Malaysia’s multi-cultural and multi-religious society.
“The so-called ’empowerment’ of the Shariah Court will only exacerbate the unequal treatment of Muslims and non-Muslims before the law,” said Bebas, an NGO that organised a smaller counter-rally on Saturday.
The issue is a divisive one. The presidents of three parties representing the Chinese and Indian ethnic groups in Prime Minister Najib Razak’s ruling Barisan Nasional coalition have threatened to quit their cabinet posts if the bill passes.
Criminal cases are currently handled by federal law in Malaysia, where Malay Muslims account for more than 60 per cent of the 30 million population.
The Shariah courts come under the jurisdiction of each state and are limited to family law covering issues such as divorce and inheritance.
For decades, PAS has been pushing for Malaysia to adopt hudud in the northeastern state of Kelantan that is governed by the party, arguing that it is the responsibility of the country’s Malay-Muslim majority to support Islamic law.
The bill is scheduled to be debated in Parliament next month.