KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 12 – Lawyer Edmund Bon is the latest to be investigated under the Sedition Act for saying that non-Muslims are not subjected to fatwas or the Shariah court. Bon broke the news by tweeting from his handle @edmundbon that his firm Bon Advocates received a call from a police officer in Penang, an ASP Zaidi Rahman, who said that the lawyer is being investigated. The investigation centres on an article in The Malaysian Insider’s Bahasa Malaysia section, entitled “Bukan Islam tidak perlu patuh kepada titah Diraja atau fatwa, kata peguam”, which was published on January 20, 2014.
The human rights and constitutional lawyer is overseas at a conference but said on Twitter, “I will co-operate with the police, and will be meeting them when I am back for a statement to be taken.” Bon is representing Malaysia at the International Law and Practice Workshop in Bangkok, his firm said. The activist-lawyer’s Twitter timeline was immediately filled with messages of support and also disbelief that Putrajaya had targeted him in its sedition dragnet.
In the article, Bon had told The Malaysian Insider: “Decrees and fatwas cannot be used against non-Muslims because it violates their legal and religious rights.” He was commenting on a decree by the National Fatwa Council on the use of the word “Allah”, which the council said was exclusive to Muslims. Bon had also said that non-Muslims cannot be charged in the Shariah court. “Therefore, any fatwa by the National Fatwa Council cannot be applied to non-Muslims,” he had said. In the article, he had also emphasised the secular nature of Malaysia’s constitution and as such, the country need not abide by any decree issued by the Rulers, or any fatwa.
Bon’s comments in January came a day after the Yang DiPertuan Agong had issued a reminder about a 1986 fatwa which banned several words, including “Allah”, from being used by non-Muslims. He now joins a string of opposition politicians, a law professor, the news portal Malaysiakini and one of its journalists, as well as two Muslim preachers who have either been charged with sedition, are facing trial under the law, or under investigation. The recent sedition blitz comes at a time when Putrajaya is facing pressure from Umno grassroots and some Malay groups to retain the colonial-era law, which they say will protect the position of the Malays, Islam and the royals.
Earlier today, a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said that Putrajaya would tread carefully with the Sedition Act, and said it had not yet decided whether to go for a complete repeal, to retain it with amendments, or to introduce new laws. The statement moves Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak further away from his pledge two years ago to repeal the Sedition Act and replace it with a National Harmony Act. Lawyers for Liberty founder Eric Paulsen, who was also quoted in the same article as Bon in January, said that even legal opinions were being targeted now.
“Edmund and the other commentators were only giving their legal opinion – how is that seditious? No one should be charged for sedition at all, but now it would seem that legal views are also seditious. “Nothing surprises me anymore – anyone can be the next target since Edmund is being investigated for an article published in January,” Paulsen said in an immediate reaction.