Court to hear G25’s book ban challenge in August

By Ida Lim
Surendra said the proposed law leaves huge gaps for abuse. — Picture by Zuraneeza Zulkifli

KUALA LUMPUR, March 20 — The High Court fixed August 13 for the hearing of pro-moderation group G25's challenge against the Home Ministry for banning its book titled Breaking the Silence: Voices of Moderation — Islam in a constitutional democracy.

Lawyer Surendra Ananth, whose colleague Priscilla Chin attended the case management today, confirmed the date of the hearing before High Court judge Datuk Kamaludin Md Said.

Last October, five G25 members filed for judicial review to ask the courts to quash the ban gazetted in July 2017, naming Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi as the respondent.

The five are Datuk Noor Farida Mohd Ariffin, Datuk Zainudden Abdul Bahari, Tan Sri Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kessim, Datuk Latifah Osman Merican and Dr Asma Abdullah.

In a supporting affidavit, Mohd Sheriff said the book published in December 2015 by Singapore's Marshall Cavendish contained the writings of 22 leading academics, lawyers and social activists including him and Asma.

He said the book aimed to promote discussions and dialogue on a moderate practice of Islam and was to be part of G25's consultative process to address the excess politicisation of religion in Malaysia.

Mohd Sheriff said former prime minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had written the book's foreword, in which the latter noted G25's cause “in pursuit of a moderate and tolerant Islam with justice for all”.

Two G25 members had on December 7, 2015 also presented a copy of the book to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

The Home Ministry banned the book on June 14, 2017, and gazetted this on July 27, 2017.

According to Mohd Sheriff, the G25 group's stand is that the ban violated their rights to freedom of speech and expression as well as their right to equality, on the grounds that the ban was discriminative when statements of extreme views are instead allegedly tolerated.

The G25 members also said the ban violated their right to fair hearing as they were not given a chance to be heard before the ban was issued.

Mohd Sheriff pointed out that the book had been in print for 19 months without any untoward incidents, and argued that the book is not likely to be prejudicial to public order or public interests, or to alarm public opinion.

Among other things, G25 said the ban is illegal, irrational and disproportionate and amounted to procedural impropriety.

On January 9, the High Court granted G25 leave to have its lawsuit heard.

G25 had then said it hoped the court's nod would be the beginning of a just hearing to “lift an unwarranted ban against a book which merely seeks to explore the concept of moderation in Islam, in the context of Malaysia as a constitutional democracy with a national aspiration to be a fully developed country and a model for the Muslim world”.