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Jawi ignores justice and fairness

June 22, 2012

FMT LETTER: From P Ramakrishnan, via e-mail

Justice and fairness is the much emphasised virtue in the Islamic faith and tradition. There is no dispute regarding this. But does the Jabatan Agama Wilaya Persekutuan (Jawi) project this virtue in its conduct and deed? This is disputable.

The Barisan government for reasons known only to itself banned the book ‘Allah, Liberty and Love’ by the Canadian author Irshad Manji. The book was apparently banned on May 29, 2012 and this was made public 16 days later on June 14, 2012.

But before the book was officially banned, Jawi officials raided the Borders bookshop at The Gardens Mall in Mid-Valley City on May 23, 2012 and seized these books that were on sale. This raid took place six days before the book in question was officially banned.

In other words at the time of the raid there was no ban and no announcement that these books should not be sold. There was no justification for the raid. There was no fatwa issued by Jawi prohibiting the sale of these books.

There was, therefore, no grounds for Jawi to act. Under the circumstance, the only conclusion that could logically prevail is that it was legitimate to sell these books on May 23, 2012.

The day following the raid, Jawi officials came again to the shop accompanied by members of the media and questioned another female Muslim employee of Borders. When she informed them that the books had been removed from the shelf as directed by Jawi the previous day, she was unjustly accused of lying.

On what basis they refused to believe this Muslim woman is beyond comprehension. The Jawi officials searched the premises thoroughly but found no evidence or trace of the book. They did not apologise to the Muslim woman for not believing her version of the truth. That would have been the decent thing to do.

On June 19, 2012, strangely the manager of the bookshop, Nik Raina Nik Abdul Aziz, was charged by Jawi in the Kuala Lumpur Syariah Court under Section 13(1) of the Syariah Criminal Offences (Federal Territories) Act 1997 for distributing Irshad Manji’s book which was deemed to be against Islamic law. If convicted Nik Raina faces a RM3,000 fine or a maximum of two years’ jail or both.

But the fact was no such books were distributed or sold after May 23, 2012. This episode exposes the officials of Jawi as not living up to justice and fairness – the core value in the Islamic faith.

They were not just and fair in their conduct in this instance:

  • It was not just and fair to charge Nik Raina Nik Abdul Aziz simply because the book in question was not banned on 23 May. Under the law, Borders bookshop was justified in selling the books on that day. It was a legitimate transaction of a registered entity.
  • It was not just and fair that the female Muslim employee was accused of lying without any proof. In fact, the search that was conducted in the bookshop produced no trace of the book in the premises.
  • It was not just and fair that on 30 May 2012, when Nik Raina – together with two other colleagues and accompanied by a Borders-appointed lawyer – turned up to attend an investigation by Jawi, they were treated roughly and issued with an arrest warrant. They had turned up in compliance with the directives issued by Jawi. There was no justification for this conduct.
  • It was not just and fair that Nik Raina was denied legal representation. This is a serious violation of her human right to legal counsel.
  • It was not just and fair that both the Home Minister, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein and the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department for Islamic Affairs, Senator Major General Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Haji Baharom, did not respond to Berjaya Books Sdn Bhd, which had sought their assistance and intervention on 5 June with regard to Jawi’s action.

Berjaya has rightly applied to the High Court on June 18 for a judicial review. It is our sincere hope that the High Court would rule on the side of justice and fairness.

But what is disturbing is that the Prime Minister has not uttered a word in an issue that is glaringly unjust and unfair. Keeping a not-so-elegant silence may be construed as concurring with the unjust action of Jawi.

Former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir, who seems never lost for words in commenting on issues and who finds it difficult to hold his peace, has not uttered a word on this glaring, violation of fundamental rights.

The writer is past President of Aliran


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