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'Will royalty, elite be punished after Act 355 changes passed?'

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PKR's Pandan MP Rafizi Ramli today questioned if amendments to Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act (Act 355) would ensure that all Muslims are adjudicated fairly under syariah enactments.

In particular, he asked if amendments to Act 355 will embolden religious enforcement officers to take action against transgressors who are members of society's elite.

"The issue is the need to ensure the syariah enactment is fair to all, but do we have enough resources at the syariah department for that? Enough judges and experts?

"I know who (among Muslim government backbenchers) consume alcohol, and there might be ministers' children who are co-habitating. Would a religious enforcement officer dare to take action?

"I am aware that I am now speaking outside of the House, but what if there was a sultan or a royal family member who consumes alcohol openly, would an enforcement officer arrest him/her and would he/she be penalised under Act 355?" he asked.

Rafizi said this would cause Islam to be maligned as only the poor get punished while the rich go free.

Syariah enactments in all Malaysian states outlaws consumption of alcohol and sex before marriage for Muslims.

Unmarried Muslim couples who live together also run the risk of being nabbed for "khalwat" (close proximity) as enactment bars unmarried Muslim men and women from being together in private spaces without a chaperone.

'Room for corruption as judges salary remain low'

Rafizi asked this in tonight's People's Parliament session, a mock parliamentary debate on amendments to Act 355 tabled by Marang MP and PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang.

The People's Parliament session, which was streamed live online via several MPs' Facebook pages, was called after Dewan Rakyat Speaker Pandikar Amin Mulia postponed debates on the amendments to the next session.

According to organisers, the session was viewed by more than 100,000 people.

The session streamed on Rafizi's Facebook page was consistently viewed by about 3,000 people.

Rafizi, who took the floor first in the mock Dewan Rakyat session, said the debate was postponed so that media hostile to Pakatan Harapan could demonise them as "anti-Islam".

Hence the mock parliamentary session was held, to allow the rakyat to hear that Pakatan Harapan MPs are seeking clarifications on how this would protect and strengthen Islam.

Among them, he said, was how the Act 355 amendments does not raise the salaries of syariah court judges.

He said there is risk of corruption and abuse of power by syariah court judges as "those earning RM6,000 to RM7,000 are allowed to send people to jail for 30 years".

"Someone with a lower salary given big powers to jail someone for 30 years, such powers if not properly managed opens the doors to abuse," he said.

The Act 355 amendments seek to raise penalty limit for syariah courts to 30 years' jail, 100 lashes of the whip and RM100,000 fine.

Act 355 now allows syariah courts to impose a maximum penalty of RM5,000, six lashes of the whip and three years' jail.

Amanah's Shah Alam MP Khalid Samad also questioned why PAS' Kota Baru MP Takiyuddin Hassan, who supported Hadi's motion, spoke of the salary revisions but the actual bill did not include such revision.

"This seems like an eye wash to confuse people as if the amendment is to fix everything but the motion has no such thing," he said.

Punishments vary between state to state

Khalid also said that the amendments allow unfairness across states in Malaysia because it will mean punishments could vary greatly between state to state.

For example, he said, the same crime can be punished with just one lashing in one state but 30 years' jail in another.

"It is like giving a loaded gun to each state and it is up to the states whether to shoot or not. This is irresponsible," he said.

"This is why we must have a committee to standardise things," he said.

Khalid said the penalty hike was motivated by the desire to have syariah courts as equal to civil courts which can mete out similarly heavy penalties.

"There is no syariah rationale for this... it is like saying to make the court more powerful, so the penalties must be 'powerful'," he said.

He also urged the amendments to instead include less punitive penalties, such as community services to rehabilitate offenders.

Khalid said the bill is not sacrosanct and has been amended three times to date, so he hoped Hadi will amend it further to improve the legislation.

"We do not oppose the effort to strengthen the syariah courts but the amendments have many weaknesses, so we need to debate it and improve it," he said.

Khalid was the last MP to speak in the three-hour session.

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