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Malaysian state to propose death penalty for apostasy from Islam

31 March 2015

Malaysia’s north-eastern Kelantan state is set to propose the enforcement of the Islamic hudud bill in the Malaysian Parliament after it was unanimously passed by the Kelantan State Assembly on 19 March. This bill would remove the caps currently set in place for punishments that can be imposed by sharia courts. It would extend them to permit amputation, stoning, lashing (only six strokes are allowed at present) and execution. Although not applying to non-Muslims it would effectively prevent conversion from Islam to another religion, because the ultimate penalty for this would be a death sentence.

Malaysian Parliament where PAS is set to table private memberhudud bill' title='Malaysian Parliament where PAS is set to table private member's hudud bill' class='img-responsive'>
Malaysian Parliament where PAS is set to table private member's hudud bill
Eriang87 / CC BY-SA 3.0

Hudud (plural of hadd) refer to the severe punishments for offences that are considered as being against God himself, and are prescribed by the Quran. These include amputation for theft, stoning for adultery, lashing for alcohol consumption, crucifixion for armed robbery, and execution for apostasy.

Kelantan’s hudud bill was initially passed in 1993 but was prevented from being implemented after the federal government ruled that it was unconstitutional. Reminding the Kelantan state of this, Steven Thiru, President of the Malaysian Bar, said: “The Bar calls upon the Kelantan state assembly to respect and abide by the Federal Constitution, and repeal the enactment immediately”. The bill is an amendment of the 1965 Syariah (the Malaysian term for sharia) Courts Act (Criminal Jurisdiction) which currently caps sharia punishments at a fine of 3,000 Malaysian ringgit (£550; €750; US$800), five years in prison, and six strokes of a cane.

In the state of Kelantan, Syariah courts run alongside the penal court system and are governed by state legislation rather than federal law. The Islamic Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) party, which is in a ruling coalition in Kelantan, hopes to present two Private Member’s bills in Parliament during its current sitting, which is set to conclude on 9 April. The first would enable Syariah courts to legislate on certain crimes currently governed by the Penal Code. The second would enable Syariah courts to sentence those convicted to amputation, lashing, crucifixion, and execution. According to the PAS, the first of these needs only a majority vote in Parliament. The second would require the support of two-thirds of the Parliament but if it were passed, the Kelantan state government would be able to enforce hudud throughout Kelantan state.

PAS says that the bill would affect only the Muslim population of the state, having no effect on non-Muslim populations. PAS federal parliament opposition coalition partner the Democratic Action Party (DAP) insists that the penal courts are sufficient for the entire population. Other critics say that it would be impossible to prevent the implementation of the so-called hudud bill from dividing the state along ethnic and religious lines. Under the proposed code, for example, women and non-Muslim men are not permitted to stand as witnesses in a Syariah court. “If I am robbed in Kelantan by a Muslim and his case goes to [Syariah] court and I cannot be my own witness in full competence, how can this be justice?” asks political and social researcher Dr Wong Chin Huat.

Moreover, this law would deny any Muslim the opportunity to change to another religion. Anyone who chooses to renounce Islam and convert to another religion would be imprisoned for a period of time in order to repent. If the convert refused to repent, they would then be sentenced to death.

Despite the fact that, if passed, the law would apply only in the state of Kelantan, analysts fear that other states may also wish to impose similar codes. The state of Terengganu, for example, has also attempted to introduce such legislation.