After Federal Court victory, Kassim Ahmad wants Shariah charges dropped

By Ida Lim
Muslim intellectual Kassim Ahmad has passed away at the age of 84. — Picture by Zurairi AR

KUALA LUMPUR, March 13 — Octogenerian Muslim intellectual Kassim Ahmad is now seeking for the Shariah charges against him to be dropped, since the Federal Court has already rejected an appeal bid by his Shariah prosecutors.

In a letter dated March 10 and sighted by Malay Mail Online, Kassim's lawyers urged the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) to advise the withdrawal of Shariah charges against the 83-year-old Muslim academic in light of the Federal Court's ruling last Tuesday.

"Therefore, please advise the Minister and the Jawi director to immediately instruct the Chief Sharie Prosecutor to take all necessary steps to retract all charges at the Shariah court against our client, return the bail money and to release all bailors," read the letter signed by Kassim's lawyers Rosli Dahlan and Muhammad Faizal Faiz Mohd Hasani.

Jawi refers to the Federal Territories Islamic Religious Department. Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom is the minister in charge of Islamic affairs.

In the same letter, the lawyers for Kassim — who will be turning 84 this September — also asked the AGC to advise those whom it is representing to immediately pay the legal costs of RM20,000 in accordance with the Federal Court's March 7 order, as well as another RM20,000 in legal costs as ordered by the Court of Appeal on December 21, 2015.

Noting that they had previously sent two letters dated June 16, 2016 and February 23, 2017 to request payment over the RM20,000 sum ordered by the Court of Appeal, Kassim's lawyers said payment has yet to be made.

Kassim's lawyers said the AGC should respond within seven days from the date of the March 10 letter to say that all their requests will be complied with and to give notification if it required more time to comply, adding that those sued by Kassim would otherwise face the risk of contempt of court proceedings.

"Please take note if we do not receive any positive response to all our requests as listed in paragraph 3 above, we have instructions to carry out enforcement action against the applicants, including contempt of court without any notice to you or to the applicants," wrote the lawyers.

The letter was sent by fax last Friday afternoon and was sent by hand today.

Last Tuesday, the Federal Court unanimously rejected Jawi and three others' application for leave to appeal against a previous court ruling favouring Kassim. This means the Court of Appeal's unanimous 2015 decision in his favour still stands.

Kassim had filed his legal challenge against minister in charge of Islamic affairs Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom, Jawi's then chief Sharie prosecutor Ibrahim Deris, Jawi and the government of Malaysia over the arrest and prosecution of him in the Shariah courts.

Kassim’s challenge had argued that the Islamic authority had acted with illegality, irrationality, procedural impropriety, unconstitutionality, ultra vires or acting beyond powers, abuse of discretionary power and unreasonable exercise of power.

In 2014, Kassim was charged at the Shariah High Court in Putrajaya with insulting Islam and defying religious authorities under two separate charges under Section 7(b) and Section 9 of the Syariah Criminal Offences (Federal Territories) Act 1997, which both carry a penalty of a maximum RM3,000 fine or maximum two-year jail, or both.

On December 21, 2015, a three-man panel at the Court of Appeal unanimously found Jawi’s actions on Kassim — including a cross-border arrest using a defective warrant, a detention exceeding 24 hours without access to lawyers and his prosecution ― to be illegal.

In the Court of Appeal order dated December 21, 2015 sighted by Malay Mail Online, the appellate court had among other things quashed the chief Sharie prosecutor’s decision to both press charges and continue prosecution against Kassim, ordered the RM20,000 in legal costs and also ordered assessment of damages to be paid to Kassim for causing him trauma and hurting his reputation.

The Court of Appeal order also carried an endorsement of a penal notice, which warned that failure to comply with its order could result in a “process of execution” — or contempt of court proceedings — against Jamil Khir as the minister and Mohammad Adib Husain as the chief Sharie prosecutor for the Federal Territories to compel them to obey.

Kassim's three-year-old ordeal is not yet over, as his case is scheduled to come up for mention on August 7 at the Putrajaya Shariah Court — which had last February said it would defer its ruling on whether to drop his charges until the Federal Court's decision.

Kassim's lawyer Rosli had last year urged Jawi to comply with the Court of Appeal's order to avoid being cited for contempt and as the Shariah prosecutors had not applied for a stay order.

Today, Rosli said he has his client’s instructions to initiate contempt of court proceedings if Jawi still chooses to ignore the Court of Appeal’s order despite failing its appeal bid at the Federal Court.

"I'm asking them to make earlier discharge and not delay — justice delayed is justice denied. An innocent man must not have an unlawful charge hanging over his head. That is oppression and injustice," he told Malay Mail Online today.

Last February, Kassim had spoken of the difficulties he faced as an 82-year-old then in making the regular trips from Kedah to the courts here, while his lawyer Rosli Dahlan had also then said the bail imposed meant that both Kassim and his bailors have to come for every single Shariah court proceedings.