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PUTRAJAYA, Sept 28 — Publisher Mohd Ezra Mohd Zaid will have to face trial in the Shariah Court after failing to persuade the country’s highest court to nullify a Selangor law that makes it an offence for Muslims to publish books the state religious authority deems un-Islamic.
Earlier today, the Federal Court dismissed Ezra and his publishing firm ZI Publications Sdn Bhd’s bid to have Section 16 of the Syariah Criminal Offences (Selangor) Enactment 1995 declared invalid, with the country’s supreme court ruling that the Selangor state assembly had acted within its powers under the Federal Constitution when making the law.
In the unanimous decision, a five-judge panel in the Federal Court noted that the Federal Constitution allows states to make laws on offences against the precepts of Islam and showed the intention of the Constitution’s framers to allow Muslims here to also be governed by Islamic personal law.
“In conclusion, we would like to highlight that a Muslim in Malaysia is not only subject to laws enacted by Parliament, but also state laws of religious nature enacted by legislature of a state,” the Federal Court panel chaired by Court of Appeal president Tan Sri Md Raus Sharif said in a 16-page judgement.
Ezra told reporters that he will have to return to the Shariah court next month, for his criminal case that has yet to go for hearing.
Ezra was charged as ZI Publications’ director and majority shareholder in March 2013 under Section 16 of the Selangor religious law, which carries a penalty of a maximum RM3,000 fine or a maximum two-year jail term or both.
He had then pleaded not guilty to a charge under Section 16 (1)(a) of publishing a Malay translation of Canadian author Irshad Manji’s “Allah, Freedom and Love”, a book which the Shariah prosecutors had deemed to be contrary to Islamic law.
Ezra, who is also the son of former law minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, had also claimed trial to an alternative charge under the same section for distributing the same book to bookshop Silverfish Books Sdn Bhd and Faisal Mustaffa.
He had also pleaded not guilty to another alternative charge under Section 16(1)(b) over his alleged possession of 180 copies of the book.
On May 29, 2012, officers from Selangor’s Islamic Religious Department (Jais) had used Section 16 when it seized 180 copies of the “Allah, Kebebasan dan Cinta” book from ZI Publications’ office.