KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 17 — The Federal Territories Islamic Religious Department’s (JAWI) forceful and humiliating arrest of a married couple for the Islamic offence of khalwat or close proximity could befall anyone, their lawyer Yusfarizal Yussoff said today.
He added that the Muslim husband-and-wife were pursuing justice against their wrongful detention through the courts to prevent a repeat of the Islamic authority’s power abuse, especially after they showed proof of their marriage.
The lawyer explained that his clients, Mohd Ridhuan Giman and Siti Sarah Maulad Abdullah showed JAWI enforcers a picture of their marriage certificate when their budget hotel room was raided last month and presented the original later the same day.
“What is most disappointing to me personally is when the original copy of the marriage certificate had already been presented at JAWI’s office the same night, but [JAWI] still refused to accept it as firm evidence of the valid marriage ties,” Yusfarizal told reporters at the court complex here after filing the couple’s lawsuit.
He said it was common for married couples not to have their marriage certificates on them at all times.
“If this can happen to my clients, it can happen to anyone, so we take this (legal) action to correct abuse of powers and to seek justice,” he added.
Earlier, Yusfarizal acknowledged both the need to obey laws and the relevant authorities’ statutory powers, but noted that there should also be compliance with laws and general principles, including the protection of privacy and fundamental liberties of those who are being raided.
There is also a need to be mindful of one’s character in the raid as it involved a married woman’s “aurat” or body parts which should not be viewed by those who are not her immediate family members, he said.
Yusfarizal said the lawsuit seeking for an open apology is also to clear his clients’ names, adding that it was assumed that JAWI had yet to drop investigations as it had failed to respond to two letters requesting for the probe retraction.
Mohd Ridhuan and Siti Sarah who have been married for three years sued JAWI and six others over a raid of their budget hotel room at 1.30am on January 8.
According to the couple’s court filing, the JAWI raid team comprised eight officers, seven who were male and had forcefully entered their room despite Mohd Ridhuan telling them his wife was underdressed.
Even after seeing that Siti Sarah was only dressed in a singlet and shorts — a condition which men who are not a Muslim woman’s immediate family members should not view—the officers ignored her state and took videos and photos of the couple.
The male enforcers allegedly refused to leave the room even after the husband presented photos of their wedding and their JAWI-issued marriage certificate, and instead ordered Siti Sarah to put her clothes on in front of them.
Scuffles broke out twice during the raid during which Mohd Ridhuan said he was strangled and suffered injuries to his neck while his wife’s left arm was bruised. Both said their injuries required medical attention.
The duo said they were held separately at JAWI’s office for an hour, and the officers refused to recognise they were a married couple despite being presented with the original marriage certificate by the husband’s mother later.
Mohd Ridhuan and Siti Sarah were only released after his mother was forced to sign a personal bond stating that the couple would return for investigation and that she would pay RM3,000 if they failed to turn up.
The couple themselves said they were forced to sign a personal bond acknowledging their arrest for khalwat.
Under Section 27 of the Shariah Criminal Offences (Federal Territories) Act 1997, those found with someone of the opposite gender who is not their spouse or immediate family members in any secluded place or a house or room under circumstances which raises suspicion that they were “engaged in immoral acts” are liable to a maximum RM3,000 fine or to a maximum two-year jail term or both.
The couple and the mother are suing for wrongful arrest, wrongful confinement, trespass to person, violation of privacy, tort of abuse of office and violation of the duo’s rights to personal liberty and freedom of movement under the Federal Constitution’s Articles 5 and 9.
They are suing two of the JAWI enforcement officers who have been identified as Mohd Shiham Ramli, Mohammad Izehar Md Amin; JAWI chief religious enforcement officer, JAWI director-general, JAWI, the Prime Minister’s Department and the government of Malaysia.
They are seeking compensation in the form of general damages, aggravated damages, exemplary damages; a court order instructing JAWI to drop the investigation, as well as an unconditional apology in the form of a letter to them and in at least two Malay-language newspapers.