Malaysian state introduces Islamic criminal code bill

Sean Yoong,KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, AP

Malaysia’s fundamentalist Muslim party introduced a bill Sunday to impose strict Islamic criminal laws in a state where it controls the local government — even though the national government said it would block its implementation.

Defying criticism from government leaders and women’s groups, the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party presented to the state parliament of the northeastern Terengganu state a bill which prescribes harsh penalties for offenses such as theft, apostasy and illicit sex.

The state assembly of Terengganu, 450 kilometers (280 miles) northeast of Kuala Lumpur, is expected to pass the bill within three days but will probably never be able to enforce it. Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has vowed that the federal government, which controls Malaysia’s police, will block its implementation. The constitution guarantees secular laws.

Terengganu is one of two states controlled by the Islamic party, which competes with Mahathir’s ruling group for votes among Malay Muslims who make up more than 60 percent of Malaysia’s 23 million people. The fundamentalists claim the government is not Islamic enough, while the government says its opponents encourage extremism.

The local government in Kelantan, the other Malaysian state controlled by the Islamic party, passed similar laws in 1993, but they have never been enforced because of the federal government’s objections.

Women’s rights activists have said the bill for hudud, or Islamic criminal law, is draconian. Among other things, women who allege rape must produce four male Muslim witnesses to back up their claims or face a possible charge of slander, which is punished by whipping.

Under the bill, which is modeled after ancient Arab laws, women cannot become trial witnesses. Rape victims who become pregnant can be charged with illicit sex, which is also punished by whipping.

The proposed law also allows for thieves to have their hands chopped off. People who commit apostasy and adultery can be stoned to death.

Terengganu Chief Minister Abdul Hadi Awang, a party hardliner, defended the law earlier this week, saying “only the criminals, not peace-loving people, should fear the law.”

Abdul Hadi was appointed the Islamic party’s acting president last month following the death of its leader, Fadzil Noor, and is expected to be confirmed as its top official during party elections next year.

In Terengganu and Kelantan, the party has also imposed — but unevenly enforced — rules banning gambling outlets and the open sale of alcohol, and forced shops to have separate payment counters for men and women.