Not all shariah punishments should be public, says Amanah rep

Amanah’s Seri Serdang assemblyman Dr Siti Mariah Mahmud.

KUALA LUMPUR: An Amanah leader has sought to discourage the use of “tazir” punishments, or those meted out at the discretion of shariah judges, to necessarily punish and humiliate offenders in the wake of the controversial public caning of two women convicted of attempting same-sex relations in Terengganu.

Dr Siti Mariah Mahmud, who leads Amanah’s women’s wing, said tazir punishments should also suit the times.

The Seri Serdang assemblyman said such punishments should be openly discussed by religious scholars to determine what was acceptable in this day and age, adding that Pakatan Harapan wanted to emphasise compassion in the “new Malaysia”.

“Not everyone needs to be punished and humiliated in front of the masses. We can improvise,” she said at a forum on public caning last night titled “Sebatan Di Khalayak Ramai: Sejauh Mana Islamiknya”.

She proposed replacing caning with community service, adding that shariah court judges could also offer advice to offenders.

“Punishments don’t have to be painful,” she said, citing disciplinary methods which were once considered acceptable by some but are now seen as a form of abuse, such as tying a child to a tree.

This showed that there was a need to keep up with the times and discourse on the matter, she said.

Fadiah Nadwa Fikri.

Activist Fadiah Nadwa Fikri, who was a panellist at the forum, meanwhile urged the public against passing judgment on the two women who were caned.

She questioned whether those critical of the women had sought to understand or consider the impact of the punishment on them.

“We have never talked to them. Did we think that they might not have wanted to be treated like animals?” she said.

The two women, who pleaded guilty to attempting to have same-sex relations in a car in Terengganu, were caned six times each at the state’s Shariah High Court earlier this month.

The sentence, the first for such an offence in the country, was witnessed by more than 100 people including family members, lawyers and members of the media.

Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad had criticised the punishment, saying it cast Islam in a bad light as a religion that was ruthless and focused on humiliation.

The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality meanwhile urged the government to enforce a moratorium on corporal punishment.