Sabah, Sarawak suggest spin-off if Malaysia gov’t passes Shariah penalty bill

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Muslim girlThe Malaysian government’s surprising endorsement of the Shariah penalty code and the support of the introduction of harsh punishments like amputations and stoning to the country’s jurisdiction has triggered angry thumbs-downs by the two eastern states of Sabah and Sarawak with their strong Christian populations, as well as from Chinese and Indian communities and from political parties even within the ruling coalition.

The protests flared up after Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government earlier this week unexpectedly submitted for parliamentary approval a controversial bill that had been proposed by the Islamist group Parti Islam se-Malaysia.

The bill seeks to amend the Malaysian constitution, thus allowing Shariah penalties in Kelantan, a predominantly Muslim northern state. But if passed, it would open the possibility to other states to enact Shariah penalty laws as well and promote two parallel criminal justice systems with different penalties under secular and Shariah laws. Whereas the secular criminal code includes no corporal punishments, under Shariah laws, the courts would be empowered to order stoning or amputations.

United Sabah People’s Party president Joseph Kurup cautioned Malaysia’s government that Sabah and Sarawak may demand to split from peninsular Malaysia if the proposed amendments to the criminal jurisdiction get passed in parliament.

“If it is forced into parliament and passed, I’m afraid it will trigger more feelings among the people of Sabah and Sarawak to go their separate ways,” he said.

Sarawak lawmakers also made a firm stand in disagreeing with the passage of the proposed amendments.

Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister James Masing said that his Parti Rakyat Sarawak, even though it is a constituent member of the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional, will not agree if the amendment involves introduction of harsh Shariah penalties.

Sarawak United People’s Party president Sim Kui Hian said his party is opposed to the bill amendment as it was against the constitution which says the federation should be secular.

The Malaysian Chinese Association, another key party in the ruling government’s coalition, also called the move “unconstitutional.” Party leader Liow Tiong Lai and Mah Siew Keong, President of Malaysian People’s Movement Party threatened to quit their cabinet positions if the bill were to be passed and implemented.

On the weekend, Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak sought to ease tensions with his coalition allies and said that the bill has been “misunderstood.”

“It applies only to certain offenses, it comes under the jurisdiction of the Shariah court and is only applicable to Muslims. It has nothing to do with non-Muslims,” he insisted, adding that the punishments would be limited and canings carried out under the law “would not injure or draw blood.”

Currently, Shariah court punishments in Malaysia are limited to jail terms not exceeding three years, or whipping of not more than six strokes or fines of not more than 5,000 ringgit ($1,220).

Razak said the bill has been drafted to enable the Shariah courts to impose “a few more strokes” of caning from the current maximum. However, further debate about the bill has now been postponed to October.

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Reading Time: 2 minutes

The Malaysian government’s surprising endorsement of the Shariah penalty code and the support of the introduction of harsh punishments like amputations and stoning to the country’s jurisdiction has triggered angry thumbs-downs by the two eastern states of Sabah and Sarawak with their strong Christian populations, as well as from Chinese and Indian communities and from political parties even within the ruling coalition.

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Muslim girlThe Malaysian government’s surprising endorsement of the Shariah penalty code and the support of the introduction of harsh punishments like amputations and stoning to the country’s jurisdiction has triggered angry thumbs-downs by the two eastern states of Sabah and Sarawak with their strong Christian populations, as well as from Chinese and Indian communities and from political parties even within the ruling coalition.

The protests flared up after Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government earlier this week unexpectedly submitted for parliamentary approval a controversial bill that had been proposed by the Islamist group Parti Islam se-Malaysia.

The bill seeks to amend the Malaysian constitution, thus allowing Shariah penalties in Kelantan, a predominantly Muslim northern state. But if passed, it would open the possibility to other states to enact Shariah penalty laws as well and promote two parallel criminal justice systems with different penalties under secular and Shariah laws. Whereas the secular criminal code includes no corporal punishments, under Shariah laws, the courts would be empowered to order stoning or amputations.

United Sabah People’s Party president Joseph Kurup cautioned Malaysia’s government that Sabah and Sarawak may demand to split from peninsular Malaysia if the proposed amendments to the criminal jurisdiction get passed in parliament.

“If it is forced into parliament and passed, I’m afraid it will trigger more feelings among the people of Sabah and Sarawak to go their separate ways,” he said.

Sarawak lawmakers also made a firm stand in disagreeing with the passage of the proposed amendments.

Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister James Masing said that his Parti Rakyat Sarawak, even though it is a constituent member of the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional, will not agree if the amendment involves introduction of harsh Shariah penalties.

Sarawak United People’s Party president Sim Kui Hian said his party is opposed to the bill amendment as it was against the constitution which says the federation should be secular.

The Malaysian Chinese Association, another key party in the ruling government’s coalition, also called the move “unconstitutional.” Party leader Liow Tiong Lai and Mah Siew Keong, President of Malaysian People’s Movement Party threatened to quit their cabinet positions if the bill were to be passed and implemented.

On the weekend, Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak sought to ease tensions with his coalition allies and said that the bill has been “misunderstood.”

“It applies only to certain offenses, it comes under the jurisdiction of the Shariah court and is only applicable to Muslims. It has nothing to do with non-Muslims,” he insisted, adding that the punishments would be limited and canings carried out under the law “would not injure or draw blood.”

Currently, Shariah court punishments in Malaysia are limited to jail terms not exceeding three years, or whipping of not more than six strokes or fines of not more than 5,000 ringgit ($1,220).

Razak said the bill has been drafted to enable the Shariah courts to impose “a few more strokes” of caning from the current maximum. However, further debate about the bill has now been postponed to October.

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