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Bung Moktar case a blow for gender equality

The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) is disappointed with the decision made by the Shah Alam Syariah High Court to set aside Kinabatangan MP Bung Moktar Radin’s jail sentence for committing polygamy without the Syariah Court's consent, and instead fine him RM1,000. We are especially concerned over statement made by the judge, Mukhyuddin Ibrahim when he handed down the decision.

Ironically, the decision was made at a time when the Syariah legal system sought to address gender-based discrimination in the courts by appointing two women as Syariah judges. The decision on the Bung Moktar case sends out a dangerous signal that men who try to get around the law by marrying another wife without consent can expect to be treated lightly and only pay fines for their crime.

This decision reinforces the perception that polygamy should not be taken seriously as a problem that affects many Muslim women in the country. This runs contrary to realities on the ground - a Sisters in Islam study on polygamous families in Peninsular Malaysia discovered that 44 percent of first wives in the study had to take on extra work after their husbands married a second wife due to a decrease in the husbands’ contribution, and 53 percent cited an increase in domestic violence.

Furthermore, the study showed that only 28 percent of first wives were satisfied with their husbands’ method of alternating nights between them, and 47% of second wives were satisfied with the arrangement.

The judge reasoned that a man who commits polygamy without consent should not be served a jail sentence because of concerns that it will affect his responsibilities to his family. This ignored the fact that his family is already affected by his second marriage.

JAG also disagrees with Judge Mukhyuddin Ibrahim’s assertion that ‘the reputation and image of appellant as a member of parliament will be viewed negatively by society’ if the prison sentence is imposed. JAG argues that maintaining public trust in the justice system is far more important.

Bung Moktar is an MP and public figure, and therefore a role model for younger Malaysians. The perceived unequal treatment by the court between those in power and those without will do far more damage to the nation than seeing an individual politician be brought to account for his law-breaking.

JAG reminds the public that this is only the latest incident in a series of misconducts that has tarnished Bung Moktar’s credibility as a lawmaker. His sexist remarks in Parliament are well- documented and served only to further degrade the august house. He later apologised to the public, but continued to behave in a manner unbefitting his responsibilities as a public figure, culminating in the polygamous marriage without consent and with no serious censure.

This casts serious doubt over the commitment of the state in upholding gender equality and delivering justice to women.

The writer is executive director, Sisters in Islam, for and behalf of the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG).