KUALA LUMPUR: The controversial Private Member’s Bill to enhance punishments in syariah courts by PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, which was deferred from May, will re-emerge this week.
The Bill, which was strongly opposed by Barisan Nasional component members as well as some Opposition parties, will be read out for the second time this week.
Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the Bill would include “several tweaks” that Abdul Hadi had read out for the first time during the Parliament meeting in May.
This was revealed following a closed-door special briefing for Muslim lawmakers on the Bill’s proposed amendments to the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 – also known as Act 355 – in Parliament yesterday.
Dr Ahmad Zahid, who chaired the briefing, arrived some 15 minutes after it began at 5pm, only to leave the meeting room 10 minutes later.
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom, who is in charge of Islamic affairs, then briefed the lawmakers present. Dr Ahmad Zahid rejoined the meeting at around 5.55pm.
Several MPs who attended the briefing said there were some initial disagreements over the Bill as many felt they had been left in the dark on the issue.
A Barisan MP from Sabah said there was “very little” information on the ground on the Bill.
“We now have to talk to our Chief Minister and inform him. I think people will accept it because it is an improvement to the current Act. Nothing to indicate hudud,” the lawmaker told The Star.
Kuantan PKR lawmaker Fuziah Salleh said the focus of the Bill was to increase the punishments under Act 355.
“I pushed for a Parliamentary Select Committee. I spoke about the principle of universal justice. When we empower syariah courts, we must ensure the rights of the non-Muslims are also upheld.
“At the moment, they only spoke about punishments. I don’t see that as empowering the syariah courts. It is very shallow,” she said.
Fuziah said she also spoke about the inclusion of non-Muslim MPs in the briefing process as they also represent Muslim constituents.
PAS Kuala Nerus MP Mohad Khairuddin Aman Razali said the briefing was for Muslim MPs to understand the issue and his party would welcome feedback from the lawmakers.
“We hope that more consultations will be made in the future,” he said.
Khalid Samad (Amanah-Shah Alam) said a key problem with Abdul Hadi’s Bill was the “blank cheque” provision that would give syariah courts complete freedom to determine the extent of punishment to mete out.
“Many of the MPs did not agree with that. So, we asked that the details on the punishments be outlined.
“For example, how many years’ jail, what the maximum fine is and the number of rotan strokes,” he said.
When Act 355 was first introduced in 1965, the maximum penalty was not more than six months’ imprisonment or a fine of not more than RM1,000 or both.
In 1984, the Act was amended to include whipping – six lashes of the rotan – and the maximum fine increased to RM5,000 and the prison term to three years.
In 1989, it was expanded to cover Sabah and Sarawak following the passing of the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) (Amendment and Extension) Act.