KOTA KINABALU: Sabah PAS legal adviser Hamid Ismail disagrees with a report by global human rights watchdog, Human Rights Watch (HRW), on Malaysia’s supposedly continued shift towards becoming a more conservative Muslim nation.
He said one possible reason for such a conclusion by HRW in its 2018 World Report could be concerns over proposed amendments to the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 (Act 355) in Parliament.
Acknowledging that people might be unnerved by the push to increase punishments for shariah offences, Hamid said Act 355 needed to evolve with the times.
“The purpose is to only increase the punishments. It doesn’t introduce new laws or new offences.
“It has nothing to do with forcing someone to embrace Islam. And this law applies only to Muslims,” he said, adding that the penalties shariah courts could impose had not been changed in 30 years.
The amendments to Act 355, tabled by PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang in the Dewan Rakyat last year, intend to increase the maximum sentence for shariah offences from three years’ imprisonment to 30 years; from RM5,000 fine to RM100,000; and six strokes to 100 strokes of the cane.
Citing an example, Hamid said the maximum sentence for rape under civil law was 20 years’ jail before 2000 but had now been increased to 30 years because of the increase in such crimes.
“It’s the same with manslaughter. Previously, it was 20 years and now it has been increased to a maximum of 30 years.
“No one is complaining about these changes in civil law. This is what you call the development of the law,” he said, adding that PAS wanted a similar change for shariah courts.
Hamid contested for the Tanjong Aru state seat in May 2013. Although considered an unknown then, he managed to obtain an impressive 5,409 votes against Barisan Nasional’s Edward Yong Oui Fah, who garnered 9,099 votes.
The 42-year-old shariah lawyer has continued his work quietly behind the scenes, looking after his party’s interests, especially in explaining to the masses about the unease over the controversial bill to amend Act 355.
Modern face of PAS
Hamid manages to do this while keeping abreast of issues and grouses on the ground as the Tanjong Aru PAS number two.
He represents the modern face of a PAS politician, firmly believing that while holding on to the tenets of one’s faith, it was also vital to reject religious extremism to preserve harmony in Malaysia’s multiracial population.
He believes that increasing the powers of shariah courts could also serve as a deterrent to religious extremism.
“Giving Islamic lectures without a ‘tauliah’ (accreditation) is also an offence. This could put a stop to illegal lectures and stop people joining the militants in Islamic State.”