By the Young Professionals (YP)
The Young Professionals (YP) read with much disquiet reports indicating the arrest of Zamihan Mat Zin, the President of non-governmental organisation known as Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jama’ah (ASWAJA) allegedly for questioning His Royal Highness the Sultan of Johor’s position on the ‘Muslim only’ dhobi located within the state of Johor Darul Takzim.
According to such reports, the ASWAJA president was caught stating on video that His Royal Highness should have taken into account the sentiments of Muslims desiring the state of ‘utmost cleanliness’ due to their desire to engage in activities, such as prayer and reading the Holy Koran, in the state. By this statement alone, the ASWAJA president is said to have committed the offence of sedition, which we submit, is based on an erroneous reading of the Sedition Act 1948.
Having seen the video, we find ourselves in agreement with the position taken by fellow NGO Concerned Lawyers for Justice (CLJ) in its press statement dated 13 October 2017, which stated, among others, that while section 3(1)(a) of the Act brands any attempt to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite dissatisfaction against any Ruler or against any Government a seditious tendency, it is NOT seditious when a speech or words uttered merely shows a Ruler has been misled or mistaken in any of his measures per section 3(2)(a) of the same Act.
Unlike CLJ, we take no position as to the accuracy or even appropriateness of the allegedly offending speech by the ASWAJA president but we do wholly agree with the said NGO’s analysis of the applicable law and we would add any reasonable man on the clapham omnibus hearing the said speech by Zamihan would come to the conclusion that the speech in question merely intends to correct a perceived mistake or fallacy on the part of His Royal Highness the Sultan of Johor. The statement cannot and must not be said to excite dissatisfaction nor contempt against His Royal Highness in any way and as such is not defined as seditious tendency within the meaning of the Sedition Act.
This, we hasten to add, is not only the correct approach towards reading the said Act from a literal angle, but is also the constitutionally sound as well as human rights oriented approach towards the same law, given that Article 10(1)(a) of our Constitution protects speech, and that includes fallacious speech, as long as the same does not fall afoul of the limitations provided by Article 10(2)(a) of the same. This is also in line with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“UDHR”) which states that
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”
and Article 22(b) of the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam (“CDHRI) which states that
“Everyone shall have the right to advocate what is right, and propagate what is good, and warn against what is wrong and evil according to the norms of Islamic Shari’ah.”
Both of which are international human rights instruments binding upon Malaysia as a member of the United Nations and the Organisation of Islamic Conference and both of which must be dutifully upheld.
It must be stressed that holding fast to the precepts of constitutional monarchy, democracy and human rights as practised around the world in this 21st century includes legal as well as general recognition of the fact that no one, not even our Rulers, are above legitimate criticism, and any failure to appreciate this renders our democratic existence illusory.
YP also agrees with CLJ’s analysis on the remand period in respect of the ASWAJA president, which is excessive and contravenes Article 5(1) of our Constitution on the right to life, which includes personal liberty, as well as Articles 3, 9, 10, 11, and 12 of the UDHR and Articles 2(d), 18(a), 19(a) to (d), 20 as well as 23(a) and (b) of the CDHRI.
YP also takes this opportunity to express its dismay with regards to the media statement of Their Highnesses in the Council of Rulers dated 10 October 2017, which among others affirmed the perceived deterioration in unity and harmony amongst citizens of various races and religions on actions of individuals deemed ‘extreme’ in particular when they involve and are done in the name of Islam, and cited as examples the Johor and Perlis ‘Muslim only’ dhobi cases.
Only in the spirit of legitimate criticism directed against Their Highnesses as permitted by our laws and by no means having any other intention, YP regards this statement as unfair and one sided. While every member of society rightly should abhor extremism committed in the name of any religion, Islam included, YP is of the strong belief that extremism in our polity does originate from any one side of our divide. YP are further of the opinion that the statement’s attribution of extremism solely upon those who commit acts in the name of Islam are false and unwarranted.
Indeed, liberal extremism, in the guise of moderation and perpetrated by groups such as COMANGO, Justice for Sisters, the PELANGI Campaign et cetera who, among others, call for the decriminalization of homosexual acts, for example, are equally to be regarded as extreme and unacceptable for a Muslim nation such as Malaysia, yet the same is not referred to by Their Highnesses in the said media statement, much less given similar emphasis.
Failure to account for the rampant liberal extremism affecting our society, whilst at the same time condemning only Islamic extremism, is clearly unacceptable, biased and contravenes the principle of equality before the law as contained in Article 8(1) of our Constitution, as well as Articles 2, 6 and 7 of the UDHR and Articles 1(a) and (b) as well as 4 of the CDHRI.
Moreover, in the case of the dhobis in question, such unjustified and unwarranted criticism also fails to take into account their rights as business owners, including the right to freely select their customers, as long as the same is within bounds permitted by law.
YP also observes that the said media statement of Their Highnesses has been seized upon by liberal groups and individuals such as the G25 who have in consequence thereof called for a review of Syariah Offences Acts and enactments and former Bersih 2.0 deputy chairperson Sarajun Hoda Abdul Hassan who has called for the dismantlement of all Syariah courts, contrary to the express provisions of our Constitution and, YP believes, surely not within the intention of Their Highnesses as issuers of the said media statement.
Given the crucial role Their Highnesses have per our Constitution in uniting all strata of Malaysian society, YP accordingly calls upon Their Highnesses to clarify their media statement dated 10 October 2017 in favour of one that is more fair and balanced in its treatment of extremism, as well as in recognition of the human rights issues involved.
- Press Statement by YP first published by Menara.my on 14 October 2017
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