Malaysia does not have a law to prosecute a Catholic priest for treason against the Selangor ruler by ignoring a royal decree not to use the word “Allah”, say criminal and human rights lawyers.
They said that treason did not apply in Malaysia where the Federal Constitution reigns supreme despite calls by several conservative Muslim groups that Father Lawrence Andrew should be charged with treason.
Human rights lawyer Andrew Khoo Chin Hock said Malaysians were living in a constitutional monarchy and the days of absolute monarch were over.
“So the question of being treasonous against a ruler does not arise and it is the constitutional right of a subject to express freely his views but in a responsible manner.
“It does not matter whether the views are contrary to what the ruler had said. This is the consequence of living in a constitutional monarchy where the Federal Constitution reigns supreme,” he told The Malaysian Insider in Kuala Lumpur.
Khoo said the Federal Constitution took precedence over the Selangor constitution.
Lawyer Datuk Baljit Singh Sidhu said there was no specific legislation or provision in existing statute books to act against anyone for treason.
The Penal Code only provided for an offence of waging war against the state but the facts of Andrew’s case did not constitute such an offence, said Baljit, who is also a criminal law lecturer and author.
Baljit, along with other lawyers, described as ridiculous the call to act against Lawrence Andrew, who is also the editor of the Catholic weekly Herald.
He said those advocating such action were trying to get political mileage.
Lawyers for Liberty adviser Eric Paulsen said the call to act against Andrew was just sensationalism.
“It might be impolite to ignore the sultan’s decree but Malaysia is governed by the Constitution and rule of law,” he said.
Paulsen said the sultan’s decree was merely advisory in nature.
“The call by certain quarters to act against Andrew is to score political points and to be seen as heroes among the Muslim community.”
The human rights lawyer said that treason only applied in an absolute monarchy, adding that “we are not living in the 15th century Malacca sultanate”.
Subang Umno division chief Datuk Zein Isma Ismail was quoted as saying by Malay daily Sinar Harian on Thursday that Andrew’s remark was akin to going against the sultan of Selangor’s decree.
“This is penderhakaan (treason) towards the sultan’s decree and we demand that he apologise,” Zein was quoted.
The National Fatwa Council also expressed concern that inaction over Andrew’s comments could cause unrest.
Its chairman, Professor Tan Sri Abdul Shukor Hussin, was reported by Berita Harian as saying that the situation could worsen if the church did not comply with the state law.
The daily also reported that Perak Mufti Tan Sri Dr Harussani Zakaria had said those who insulted Islam by challenging court decisions, the Federal Constitution and the country’s rulers were traitors.
Harussani went further when he reportedly called on the government to take firm action, such as imprisoning traitors and revoking their citizenship as well as banning churches that continue to use the word “Allah”.
Religious tension had been mounting over the “Allah” row after the Court of Appeal last October upheld the home minister’s ban on the Herald from using the word on grounds of national security and public order.
Things became murkier when the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) said last week it would stop churches in the state from using the word in compliance with a state enactment passed in 1988.
Last year, the Selangor ruler issued a decree that “Allah” was exclusive to Muslims and could not be used by religions other than Islam in Selangor. – January 4, 2014.
BY V. ANBALAGAN, ASSISTANT NEWS EDITOR, The Malaysian Insider