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Religion and the law E-mail
Sunday, 12 January 2014

The Sunday Star
Legally Speaking by Roger Tan


Religion and the law

The Jais raid on the premises of the Bible Society of Malaysia has put into focus the Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Amongst Muslims) Enactment 1988 of SelangorThe Jais raid on the premises of the Bible Society of Malaysia has put into focus the Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Amongst Muslims) Enactment 1988 of Selangor.

THE Jan 2 raid by the Selangor Islamic Affairs Department (Jais) on the premises of the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM), in which 331 copies of Malay and Iban Bibles were seized, has brought to national attention a piece of state legislation hitherto unknown to many Malaysians – the Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Amongst Muslims) Enactment 1988 of Selangor (Selangor Enactment).

So far, Jais has argued they were empowered to do so under Section 9 (1) of the Selangor Enactment, which prohibits any non-Muslim to use in writing or speech any of 25 words or any of their derivatives and variations, as stated in Part 1 of the Schedule, pertaining to a non-Islamic religion.

The 25 words are Allah, Firman Allah, Ulama, Hadith, Ibadah, Kaabah, Kadi, Ilahi, Wahyu, Mubaligh, Syariah, Qiblat, Haj, Mufti, Rasul, Iman, Dakwah, Injil, Salat, Khalifah, Wali, Fatwa, Imam, Nabi andSheikh.

Section 9 (2) also prohibits a non-Muslim to use 10 expressions of Islamic origin set out in Part II of the Schedule, including Alhamdulillah and Insyallah.

Non-Muslims can, however, use the words and expressions by way of quotation or reference.

Jais contended that Section 9 (1) had been contravened because the Malay and Iban Bibles contain the word “Allah”. Further, they were entitled to arrest without warrant the BSM chairman, lawyer Lee Min Choon, and manager Sinclair Wong as section 11 provides that all offences and cases under the Selangor Enactment are deemed to be seizable offences and cases under the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC), that is, offenders of seizable offences can be arrested without any warrant of arrest.

A fortiori, as this is a law passed by a state legislature, it has the force of law and quite rightly it can, therefore, override the 10-point solution decided by the Federal Cabinet and communicated via the Prime Minister’s letter dated April 11, 2011 to the Christian Federation of Malaysia.

Apart from section 9, the Selangor Enactment also makes it an offence for any non-Muslim to:

> influence or incite any Muslim to change his faith (Section 4);

> subject any Muslim minor to influences of a non-Islamic religion (Section 5);

> approach any Muslim to subject him to any speech on or display of any matter concerning a non-Islamic religion (Section 6);

> send or deliver any publications concerning any non-Islamic religion to a Muslim (Section 7); and

> distribute in a public place any publications concerning a non-Islamic religion to a Muslim (Section 8).

To date, 10 states have passed similar enactments with almost identical provisions except for the penalties and the words and expressions stated in the Schedule (see the table). Effective July 20, 2007, Kelantan has imposed the most stringent punishment, which includes mandatory whipping for all offences. The Johor State Enactment does not contain any schedule, but it imposes a blanket ban on the use of any “words of Islamic origin”.

 
Freedom from hate speech E-mail
Sunday, 22 December 2013
Roger TanThe Sunday Star

Legally Speaking by Roger Tan

The debate currently raging in Australia about amending or repealing section 18C of its Racial Discrimination Act, 1975 is rather interesting.

DURING the recent election, Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Attorney-General George Brandis had pledged to repeal section 18C.

It all started after journalist Richard Bolt was found to have contravened the RDA in two of his articles written in 2009 and published in The Herald Sun and on its online site, titled “White fellas in the black” and “White is the new black”.

As reported in the case of Eatock v Bolt, 2011, Eatock had complained that Bolt’s two articles had conveyed offensive messages about her and people like her (that is high profile and fair-skinned Aboriginal people) in that they were not genuinely Aboriginal and were pretending to be Aboriginal so they could avail to the benefits meant for Aboriginal people.

Justice Bromberg ruled that the defences and exemptions allowed under section 18D of the RDA, such as if the act was done reasonably and in good faith for purposes of artistic work or public interest or making a fair comment, had no application because the articles contained factual errors.

Hence, this has now appeared to be the first task of the Abbott government, that is to remove this racial vilification law. In Brandis’ view, repealing section 18C would, in fact, strengthen and restore freedom of speech in Australia.

“You cannot have a situation in a liberal democracy in which the expression of an opinion is rendered unlawful because somebody else ... finds it offensive or insulting,” said Brandis in The Australian recently.

In other words, free speech is about allowing other people to say or write bad and rude things about you which you do not like.

That was exactly what Abbott said in August when he was the Opposition Leader: “If free speech is to mean anything, it’s others’ right to say what you don’t like, not just what you do. It’s the freedom to write badly and rudely. It’s the freedom to be obnoxious and objectionable.”

 
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