Ratifying convention against torture not against Islamic law, forum told

Law lecturer and Centhra fellow at University Malaya, Siti Zubaidah Ismail, speaks during a press conference in Kuala Lumpur July 2, 2018. — Picture by Miera Zulyana
Law lecturer and Centhra fellow at University Malaya, Siti Zubaidah Ismail, speaks during a press conference in Kuala Lumpur July 2, 2018. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

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KUALA LUMPUR, July 2 — Panellists at a human rights forum said discouraging the use of torture or cruel punishment by public officials is wholly in line with Islamic principles and laws.

During the workshop on the United Nations’ Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Uncat) panellist and Universiti Malaya law lecturer Prof Siti Zubaidah Ismail said a holistic view of the Shariah permitted sentences that were not punitive in nature.

Siti noted that Article One of the convention that defines torture also does not include legally-valid punishments by public officials.

“There is open room for interpretation, but I believe further discussion is needed to see if our society can tolerate the notion of not using physical punishment (when sentencing crimes)” she said, adding that it is also important to observe trends in other Islamic countries that have ratified the UNCAT, including Tunisia, Turkey, Morocco, and Egypt, among others.

Jointly organised by the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia and the Centre For Human Rights Research and Advocacy, the panel also included Uncat committee member Abdelwahab Hani, from Tunisia.

When asked how long it would take for the Muslim world to transition from punishments deemed torture, Abdelwahab said three factors have to be considered.

“Firstly is torture by public officials, such as to extract information or confessions, which from my experience most Islamic countries totally agree (should be stopped) as it is a sign of an authoritarian state,

“Second is the cultural aspect, which includes caning children at home or in school. I think this will take more time but it is possible to convince the wider society that one can uphold Islamic values without the use of violence,” he said.

Abdelwahab said the third involves the punishment of criminals, which he said varies greatly among Muslim nations.

“Globally there are 73 different ways of interpreting Islamic law, subject to the school of jurisprudence (madhab), or whether one is Sunni or Shia. Malaysia’s interpretation itself is but one of the 73 ways,

“By and large there are discussions among religious scholars who are considering the possibility of moving to replace corporal or even capital punishment with longer prison sentences or fines. So we have to wait and see what the outcome is,” he said.