Protect Sisters in Islam instead of attacking and smearing them
28 August 2019
Lawyers for Liberty views with extreme concern the dismissal by the Kuala Lumpur High Court of Sisters in Islam (SIS)’s judicial review application against a 2014 Selangor fatwa, with costs.
The fatwa had made a sweeping declaration that SIS and ‘any individuals, organisations and institutions’ holding on to liberalism and religious pluralism’ are deviant from Islamic teachings. The fatwa had further instructed the Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) to block any websites that go against Islamic teachings and Islamic law.
The High Court in yesterday’s decision not only declared that the civil court has no jurisdiction to hear the challenge on the fatwa, but further ruled that SIS should not be immune from having the fatwa applied on it and that justice in this regard warrants the lifting of the corporate veil.
This is disturbing for three reasons: firstly, it has been held by the Federal Court that under Art. 121(1) of the Federal Constitution, judicial power is vested exclusively in the civil High Courts and their jurisdiction and powers is not confined to Federal law; secondly, the Syariah courts have no jurisdiction over SIS which is a company; and thirdly, the corporate veil can only be lifted in instances of fraud, which is not justified in this case and have troubling ramifications on corporate entities in Malaysia.
SIS has been targeted by religious authorities despite its decades of human rights and advocacy work focusing on women’s rights in Islam. For example, its free legal clinic, Telenisa, has provided non-judgmental assistance to about 10,000 women and men on their legal rights under the Islamic family law and Syariah laws. In addition, SIS has continuously championed hard issues such as ending child marriages, gender-based violence, female gender mutilation (FGM) and promoting gender equality and non-discrimination. To give legitimacy to the intolerant fatwa suggests that all the aforesaid work of SIS is against the teachings of Islam.
As with any human rights defenders, SIS plays an important role in the promotion and protection of human rights for all. It is not for any religious authorities to declare them as deviants. To do so would open room for further action to be taken against them either by the State or even by misguided non-State actors.
We therefore call on the authorities to protect all human rights defenders and organisations which is crucial in ensuring that they can work in a safe, supportive environment that is free from attacks, reprisals and unreasonable restrictions.
We further urge the Minister in charge of Islamic Affairs to look into this matter and resolve it as soon as possible.
Lawyers for Liberty