WASHINGTON (BP)–Attempts by a radical Malaysian Muslim party to impose controversial Islamic penal system in a state it rules has run into its first major hurdle: Police are refusing to enforce the newly-passed legislation, CNSNews.com reported July 12.
Days after the Terengganu state government voted to introduce punishments including death for apostasy, limb amputations for theft and stoning to death for adultery, the state’s police chief, Othman Talib, said police would not cooperate, as they were bound by the federal constitution above state laws.
A similar stance was taken by the federal police inspector-general, Norian Mai.
Terengganu, whose population is 95 percent Muslim, is ruled by the federal opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) party, whose political aim is to transform Malaysia into a fundamentalist state under Islamic (shari’a) law, with its accompanying punitive code.
Apparently unfazed by the police statement, the party’s leader and Terengganu chief minister, Hadi Awang, said July 11 his government would not seek police help in enforcing the law, according to the official Bernama news agency.
The focus, Hadi Awang told reporters, would be on Muslims themselves coming forward, repenting of crimes and accepting the stipulated punishment.
The role of the shari’a court and public awareness was therefore more important than that of the police, he said.
Although PAS said non-Muslims in the state would not be covered by the laws, Hadi Awang upset minorities by saying this could change.
“For now it will apply to only Muslims but when the time comes, the [shari’a] laws will be extended to all non-Muslims,” he told lawmakers earlier in the week.
“Politics should not be separated from Islam. As Muslims, it is an obligation and a duty for PAS to use its political power to implement this law,” added Hadi Awang, who recently became party president on the death of its more moderate leader.
Just over half of Malaysia’s population is Muslim. The remainder includes Chinese and Indian citizens — Buddhists, Hindus and Christians.
The largest non-Muslim party in the federal parliament, the secular DAP, said the PAS leader’s remarks on extending the Islamic laws were arrogant.
PAS was giving Malaysians every reason to reject it in the next general election, predicted party spokesman Gobind Singh Deo.
DAP leader Lim Kit Siang currently faces sedition charges for distributing leaflets arguing that non-Muslims could become second-class citizens if the country is formally defined as an Islamic state.
Meanwhile Terengganu local government councilor Abdul Muttalib Embong said “technical problems” had to be ironed out before the penal code could be enforced.
Judges and other officials had to be appointed, and the government would also offer courses to explain the punishments to citizens, he said.
The law will go to the state sultan for assent and then be submitted to the attorney general for review before going into force.
There is a chance the moderate federal government could still block the move, repeating a situation in 1993 when Kuala Lumpur stymied PAS attempts to impose the laws in another state it governs, Kelantan.
But observers are concerned that Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO)-led coalition — with an eye on its Muslim support-base — may not oppose the laws this time.
A religious adviser to Mahathir, Abdul Hamid Othman, was quoted as saying early this month of their implementation: “This must not be done in a hurry. We have to prepare people to accept [shari’a punishments] by way of educating students in the universities about Islamic laws.”
British-based charity Barnabas Fund, which closely monitors and helps Christian minorities living under Islam, said the prime minister’s adviser had suggested that the federal government would bring in the punishments “once it found that the environment was appropriate.”
“Christians and other minorities, as well as women’s groups, are fearful that the implementation of such laws will lead to discrimination against them and undermine their equality before the law,” the charity said.
Goodenough is the Pacific Rim bureau chief with www.CNSNews.com. Used by permission.