KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 20 – The police have recorded a statement from lawyer Edmund Bon who is being investigated for sedition for saying that non-Muslims are not subject to fatwas or the shariah court. His lawyer Amer Hamzah Arshad said Bon was questioned by police from the Kepala Batas district police station at his firm Bon Advocates in Kuala Lumpur today. “They asked routine questions regarding his statement and he gave them his views and explanations,” he told The Malaysian Insider. Amer said there was no indication from the police on whether Bon would be charged under the colonial-era law. “It’s hard to say, we’ll wait and see the outcome of the investigations but I hope they won’t charge him,” he added.
Earlier, Bon’s firm had tweeted that the interview was conducted by ASP Zaidi Rahman. Besides Amer, Bon’s two other lawyers New Sin Yew and Lee Shee Pin were also in attendance. The police investigation centred 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. In the article, the constitutional lawyer had said: “Decrees and fatwas cannot be used against non-Muslims because they violate 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 could not be charged in the shariah court. “Therefore, any fatwa by the National Fatwa Council cannot be applied to non-Muslims,” he said. In the article, he had also emphasised the secular nature of Malaysia’s Constitution, saying that 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 di-Pertuan Agong 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, news portal Malaysiakini and one of its journalists, as well as two Muslim ulama who have either been charged with sedition, are facing trial under the law, or are under investigation. The recent sedition blitz comes as Putrajaya faces pressure from Umno grassroots and some Malay groups to retain the law, which they say will protect the position of the Malays, Islam and the royals. A statement from the Prime Minister’s Office a few days ago said that Putrajaya would tread carefully with the Sedition Act and 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 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 with 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.