SIS allowed to continue judicial review against ‘deviant’ fatwa

By Zurairi AR
Lawyer Surendra Ananth (third from left) and members and supporters of Sisters in Islam are pictured at the Palace of Justice, Putrajaya, following the Court of Appeal's favourable decision on March 2, 2017. — Picture by Zurairi AR

PUTRAJAYA, March 2 — The Court of Appeal reversed today a lower court’s ruling that had dismissed Sisters in Islam’s (SIS) judicial review application against a fatwa that labelled the women’s group as deviant.

The case will now be remitted to the Kuala Lumpur High Court to be heard in front of another judge, with case mention scheduled for March 9.

"We unanimously disagree with the High Court ruling. We allow the appeal," Justice Datuk Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat told the court here when reading out the decision.

The panel that also included judges Datuk Abdul Rahman Sebli and Datuk Zaleha Yusof did not go into the merits of the judicial review, and made no order with regards to costs.

The appellants were represented by lawyers Surendra Ananth and Fahri Azzat, while Selangor legal adviser Datuk Nik Suhaimi Nik Sulaiman and lawyer Yusfarizal Yussoff presented for the respondents.

On October 31, 2014, SIS filed for judicial review of a gazetted fatwa in Selangor that declared the group as “deviants” in Islam due to their alleged religious liberalism and pluralism.

The fatwa also deemed any publications with elements of liberalism and religious pluralism as “haram”, or forbidden to Muslims, and can be seized by religious authorities.

It also sought for local Internet regulator the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission to monitor and block social media websites with content that was against Islam.

SIS Forum (Malaysia), the group’s co-founder Zainah Anwar and Datuk Zaid Ibrahim had named the Selangor Fatwa Committee, the Selangor Islamic Religious Council (Mais) and the state government as respondents in their application.

SIS Forum (Malaysia) is the company running SIS and its lawyer, Malik Imtiaz Sarwar, previously argued in court that it is a secular entity that falls outside of the Islamic judicial system.

On December 10, 2014, then Kuala Lumpur High Court Judge Datuk Asmabi Mohamad granted SIS leave for judicial review.

However, on June 24 last year, High Court judge Datuk Hanipah Farikullah dismissed the case, ruling that only the Shariah courts have the powers to deal with the religious edict.