Ezra Zaid allowed to continue challenge of Jais arrest, prosecution over book

By Ida Lim
ZI Publications Sdn Bhd director Ezra Zaid is seen at the Federal Court, Putrajaya in this file picture taken on September 28, 2015. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng

PUTRAJAYA, April 26 ― Mohd Ezra Mohd Zaid and his publishing firm can proceed with the legal challenge against his arrest and prosecution by the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) over a controversial book, the Court of Appeal ruled today.

Court of Appeal judge Datuk Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat said the three-man panel unanimously decided that Ezra's case should be sent back to be decided by the High Court.

Tengku Maimun said the High Court had erred when allowing Jais' preliminary objection to Ezra's lawsuit, noting that respondents had only objected to part of the lawsuit regarding the constitutionality of a particular Shariah law.

“The preliminary objection is not related to other prayers, in particular arrest and seizure, which in our view ought to be heard by the High Court on merits.

“The appeal is allowed, the matter is remitted to the High Court to be heard on the merits before a new judge,” she said.

The judge said that there will be no order as to costs and fixed the case's mention at the High Court on May 11.

Today was the hearing of ZI Publications Sdn Bhd and Ezra's appeal against the dismissal of their lawsuit to challenge Jais' 2012 raid of its offices, seizure of its books and arrest of Ezra.

The High Court had previously granted leave to hear the lawsuit, but had last September 6 dismissed it without hearing the case following a preliminary objection by the Selangor religious authorities.

The other judges on the panel today are Datuk Abdul Rahman Sebli and Datuk Zaleha Yusof.

On July 9, 2012, ZI Publications and Ezra had filed for judicial review against six parties ― Jais, Jais' director-general, Jais chief enforcement officer, Selangor's chief Syarie prosecutor, the Selangor government and the Malaysian government.

ZI Publications and Ezra are seeking for a number of court orders, including the quashing of Jais' raid and seizure on May 29, 2012 of 180 copies of the BM edition of Canadian writer Irshad Manji's book Allah, Liberty and Love and an order for the return of the books seized.

They asked the courts to nullify the May 29 arrest and subsequent prosecution of Ezra with three alternative counts under the Syariah Criminal Offences (Selangor) Enactment 1995's Section 16.

They are also seeking a court declaration that Section 16 is null and void due to its breach of the Federal Constitution's Articles 8(1) and 10(1)(a) ― which guarantees Malaysians' right to equality before the law and right to freedom of speech and expression.

Among other things, they are seeking a court order prohibiting the launch and continuation of the Section 16 investigations and prosecution, as well as compensation for the “mental distress, agony and torture” that they had suffered.

On March 7, 2013, Ezra was charged as ZI Publications' director and majority shareholder under Section 16(1)(a) with two alternative counts of publishing and distributing the Allah, Kebebasan dan Cinta book, as well as a third alternative count under Section 16(1)(b) for possession of 180 copies of the book.

Conviction under any of these charges would result in a maximum RM3,000 fine or maximum two-year jail or both. Ezra's trial at the Shariah court has yet to start and a decision on his preliminary objection against the Shariah case is expected to be delivered on June 8.