Malaysian religious authorities drop appeal against Borders manager

by - 24th June 2015

NIK RAINA Nik Abdul Aziz gained some temporary relief on 23 June when Malaysian Islamic authorities finally ended their persecution of the Borders bookstore manager.

After pursuing Nik Raina for three years, the Federal Territories Islamic Department (JAWI) withdrew its appeal against her acquittal by the Syariah High Court, over the sale of a book that had not been banned at the time of her charge.

At the Syariah Court of Appeal on 23 June, a three-man bench allowed JAWI’s application to withdraw its appeal.

The withdrawal was filed on 9 March.

‘We allow this application and the case is now dropped,’ said Justice Dr Md Yusup Che Teh in a brief hearing.

Nik Raina was charged under the Syariah Criminal Offences (Federal Territory) Act and faced up to two years in jail or a fine of RM3,000 (US$800) if convicted.

Ms Raina, however, still has one more hurdle to pass in the civil courts as JAWI has appealed a Court of Appeal decision saying that JAWI’s prosecution of the manager as ‘unreasonable, irrational’ and against the ‘principles of fairness and justice’ on 25 August.

In the civil Court of Appeal, a three-man bench led by Justice Mah Weng Kwai had ruled that there were no merits in the Home Minister and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Islamic Affairs) and JAWI’s appeal against a High Court decision to quash JAWI’s actions.

‘It was an abuse and unreasonable exercise of discretionary power, unconstitutional and procedurally improper,’ said Mah in a 44-page judgement.

Book

The Islamic department raided a Borders book store in the capital on 23 May, 2012, and seized copies of Canadian writer Irshad Manji’s book Allah, Liberty and Love.

The book was not banned at the time.

On May 29, the Home Minister issued a prohibition against the sale and distribution of the book.

A government gazette published the prohibition on June 14.

Nik Raina was arrested after attending a meeting at JAWI’s office on May 30 and was later charged at the Syariah Court on June 19.

JAWI later sought to charge Nik Raina and Borders general manager Stephen Fung in the Syariah Court for ‘disseminating and distributing by way of selling the books deemed contrary to Islamic law’.

In last year’s judgment, High Court judge Zaleha Yusof said the public should be informed of publications which were contrary to the law before they became illegal.

She said the charge against Nik Raina was an infringement of Article 7 of the Federal Constitution that no persons shall be punished for an act that was not punishable by law when it was done.

Dual system

Malaysia employs a dual court system, civil and Syariah, which has resulted in an increasing number of contradictory rulings where the civil court system has left it undecided which system was above the other.

The multiracial and multi-religious country of 30 million people gained independence from Britain in 1957 and was founded on a secular Federal Constitution, with Islam as the official religion.

However, the nation of 13 states has become increasingly conservative over the years, with a stronger Islamic influence in government over the past three decades.

Each state has its own religious department, with slightly different state Islamic laws.