Rights groups insist Putrajaya can prevent repeat of Terengganu caning

Jerry Choong
Tan urged the Attorney-General’s Chambers to determine if any state laws were in need of amendment to make them consistent with federal legislation and prevent a repeat of the Terengganu incident. — Picture by Azneal Ishak

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 12 — The government can overrule state enactments that are in conflict with federal laws and the constitution, said Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG).

Rejecting the argument that Shariah laws came solely under the individual states, the coalition of rights group said this did not apply when a state law results in a violation of federal legislation, even if the former is religious in nature.

“It is untrue and inaccurate that the federal government’s hands are tied and it cannot do anything.

“If anything the government can reduce the sentencing capabilities of Shariah courts just as it can be increased,” said constitutional lawyer Honey Tan during a press conference held by the 13-organisations group.

Tan, who is also a member of the Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor, pointed out that state Shariah enactments were subordinate to the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 also known as Act 355.

She urged the Attorney-General’s Chambers to determine if any state laws were in need of amendment to make them consistent with federal legislation and prevent a repeat of the Terengganu incident.

On August 12, the Terengganu Shariah court sentenced two alleged lesbians to a fine of RM3,300 and six strokes of the cane each for attempted same-sex relations.

Controversy arose after the state authorities implemented the corporal punishment in public and on the two women who were not inmates at the time, in violation of the country’s civil laws.

Since then, rights group have come out to demand the government abolish all forms of corporal punishment in the country, deeming these to be cruel and humiliating.

Proponents of the Shariah version of caning insist that the physical punishment was not harmful, but Sisters In Islam executive director Rozana Isa rejected this today as illogical.

“There is nothing compassionate about what is tantamount to a state-orchestrated public spectacle, nor is it compassionate to defend and normalise such violence and humiliation as a means to educate,” she said.  

Justice For Sisters co-founder Thilaga Sulathireh expressed grave concern over the discrepancies between Malaysia’s civil law and its Shariah counterpart, claiming the latter systematically denied accused persons access to justice, especially in morality-related cases.

Human Rights Commission of Malaysia commissioner Datuk Lok Yim Pheng reiterated the call for a moratorium on corporal punishment as an immediate first step.

“We urge the federal government to do so in fulfilling Malaysia’s commitments to international laws and standards,” she said.

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