KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 10 ― Safeguarding Islam cannot be used as a reason not to pursue Datuk Ibrahim Ali for his alleged threat to torch Malay-language bibles, several lawyers said, pointing out that the law does not give special protection to Muslims. Civil liberties lawyer Syahredzan Johan said Putrajaya’s decision not to press charges against the Perkasa president, who was investigated under Section 298 of the Penal Code that criminalises wounding the religious feelings of any person, sent the message that certain criminal acts are justified in the name of religion. “Islam is no defence. Doesn’t matter what religion the offender is,”
“I must emphasise that I am in no way advocating action to be taken against Ibrahim Ali for sedition at all. Nor do I necessarily agree that we should take any action against him. “What I do question is the reasoning and justification given by the government for not pursuing action against him,” the lawyer added. De facto law minister Nancy Shukri told Parliament earlier this week that Ibrahim was not charged in court over his alleged threat to burn Malay-language Christian holy scriptures because the police had concluded that the Malay rights group leader was merely defending the sanctity of Islam, and had not intended to create religious chaos with his statement.
The police’s probe had also found that Ibrahim’s statement was directed at individuals who had purportedly distributed bibles containing the word “Allah” to students, including the Malays, at Penang’s Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Jelutong, Nancy had said. In Penang last year, Ibrahim allegedly urged Muslims to torch Malay-language bibles that contain the word “Allah”, the Arabic word for God. Christians are a minority group in Malaysia, comprising some 9 per cent of the population, while Malay-Muslims make up the majority. Criminal defence lawyer Amer Hamzah Arshad questioned the police’s decision to limit their investigation against Ibrahim to Section 298 of the Penal Code.
He noted that an offence under that section would be more difficult to prove in court as it requires the accused’s intention to be established, while an offence under the Sedition Act 1948 has no such pre-requisite. “As such, if Ibrahim Ali were to be investigated under the Sedition Act, there is no doubt that he would have been charged, “I am not advocating for Ibrahim Ali to be investigated or charged under the Sedition Act, as I am against the Act. “However, there appears to be a different treatment conferred to Ibrahim Ali in this case, despite the fact that Article 8 of the Federal Constitution says that all persons are equal before the law,” the lawyer added.
Criminal lawyer Joshua Tay from Bon Advocates said if Ibrahim were to be charged under Section 298 of the Penal Code, it would be up to the court to decide whether the Perkasa chief had intended to hurt an individual’s religious feelings or to defend Islam. “The intention of Ibrahim Ali on whether to wound feelings or to merely defend the sanctity of Islam is a matter to be determined by the court based on evidence,” Tay told. Last night, Nancy explained that the Attorney-General Chambers had decided not to charge Ibrahim “after considering the outcome” of the police probe, also saying that this was because the context of his speech was in line with the spirit of the Federal Constitution’s Article 11(4).
While Article 11 guarantees the constitutional right of all Malaysians to freely profess and practise their faith, Article 11(4) says that state laws or laws for the federal territories “may control or restrict the propagation of any religious doctrine or belief among persons professing the religion of Islam”. Such laws are not always used, but Selangor religious enforcers this January raided the Bible Society of Malaysia’s (BSM) office and seized over 300 copies of Malay-language and Iban-language bibles, basing their actions on the Selangor Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Among Muslims) Enactment 1988. The Christian community has, however said that the use of the bibles containing the word “Allah” is an integral part of the Bumiputera Christians’ life ― especially those in Sabah and Sarawak, who have been using it in their worship and prayers for generations.