MALAYSIA’s Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has emphasised legislative changes introducing public caning for moral offences in Kelantan is “only” for Muslims in the conservative northeastern state.
News agency Bernama quoted Zahid on Thursday as saying “I have not received details on the tabling of the Bill and of the amendments, but I feel what they’ve done should be seen in the context of this law being only for Muslims in Kelantan.”
Earlier this week Kelantan’s leader Mohd Amar Nik Abdullah confirmed the state legislative assembly had altered its Syariah criminal code of 2002 so as to allow Islamic courts to hand down public caning as a punishment.
“However, although the amendments have been passed, these still require the consent of the Kelantan Sultan for implementation,” Zahid said.
For over two decades, Kelantan has been led by the Pan-Islamist Party (PAS), an orthodox Muslim party which had traditionally been an opposition force influential in Malaysia’s rural areas.
The changes to its Penal Code mean “illicit” sexual acts, homosexuality and the consumption of alcohol would be punishable by caning in public. Under the altered laws, religious enforcement officers will also be allowed to handcuff suspects and use videos as evidence in court.
The legal changes were slammed by Malaysian civil society group Sisters in Islam (SIS) who deemed public canings a “deplorable form of humiliation” and demanded the Kelantan government highlight where in the Quran were canings endorsed.
“Any laws passed under the name of Islam must take into account the most fundamental teachings of the Quran based on justice and mercy and the right to preserve human dignity,” SIS said a statement released on Thursday.
“Kelantan has witnessed high rates of pornography, rape and incest.”
“Repression, shaming, and punishment do not lead to higher Islamic values,” it said.
Tourism Minister Nazri Aziz, meanwhile, said foreigners were even more likely to visit the country’s Borneo states of Sarawak and Sabah instead after the legal changes.
“Tourists can go to other states, like Sabah, Sarawak, Langkawi and Kuala Lumpur,” he said, as quoted by Free Malaysia Today.
Kelantan is not an attractive state, go Sabah Sarawak instead says tourism minister Nazri after KB allows public caning for sharia offenses pic.twitter.com/bxj2u20oDM
— Melissa Goh (@MelGohCNA) July 13, 2017
Neighbouring Indonesia’s semi-autonomous province of Aceh drew international outrage in June when it publicly caned two young men for homosexual acts under its Syariah-influenced penal code.
Indonesian media reported in March a Kelantanese politician Johari Mat of PAS led a group of Malaysian “tourists” to watch the canings in Aceh.
On Tuesday, however, Aceh’s newly-elected governor announced future corporal punishment would be carried out within prisons rather than in the public sphere, so as not to deter future investment in the province.