Appeals court quashes home ministry’s ban on 3 books on Islam

The three books banned by the Malaysian government in 2017.

PUTRAJAYA: The Court of Appeal today quashed the government’s ban on three books published by Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF), in a decision seen as a blow to the home ministry’s powers.

In a unanimous decision, judges Abdul Karim Abdul Jalil, Nor Bee Ariffin and Abu Bakar Jais allowed the appeal by the group to lift the ban on the books.

The books are “Islam Tanpa Keekstreman: Berhujah Untuk Kebebasan”, a translation of Turkish academic Mustafa Akyol’s “Islam without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty”, as well as two volumes of IRF’s Wacana Pemikiran Reformis series. They were published in 2012, 2014 and 2016.

The home ministry’s order to ban the book was gazetted on Sept 6, 2017 under the Printing, Presses and Publications (PPP) Regulation which, among others allows the authorities to prohibit the printing, circulation and possession of printed materials.

The High Court had upheld the ban in April last year, saying it is satisfied with the former home minister’s excuse in imposing the ban.

“It was based on his own opinion after taking into account the opinions of experts. The contents of the book are likely to be prejudicial to public order and interest and likely to alarm public opinion,” judge Nordin Hassan had said.

IRF director Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa.

IRF director Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa welcomed today’s verdict, saying the court has fulfilled its role as “the last bastion for the protection of freedom of expression”

“The court agrees to the counsel’s arguments that it has the power to protect this fundamental liberty,” he told FMT.

He said while freedom is not absolute, it must be shown and proven that such a freedom had caused disruption of the public order.

“It should no be based simply on the whims and fancy of the minister of home affairs,” said Farouk.

“We also have the right to be heard and the decision should not be based just on the advice of Jakim while denying us our right to be heard,” he said, referring to the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia.

Farouk said that the court accepted that unless there is an express provision ousting the right, there is a right to be heard arising out of the requirements of natural justice.

He said the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 had not expressly ousted the right to be heard.

“The minister, having made the order without hearing the appellant, had acted in breach of the requirements of natural justice,” he added.