Court quashes Zahid’s ban on G25’s book on Islam

Lawyer Surendra Ananth is seen at the court complex in Putrajaya February 21, 2019. — Picture by Zuraneeza Zulkifli
Lawyer Surendra Ananth is seen at the court complex in Putrajaya February 21, 2019. — Picture by Zuraneeza Zulkifli

KUALA LUMPUR, April 9 — The High Court today nullified then-home minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s 2017 ban on pro-moderation group G25’s book that compiled writings on the administration of Islam.

The G25 movement’s lawyer, Surendra Ananth, said High Court judge Datuk Nordin Hassan allowed the group’s legal challenge against the ban on the basis that it was “illegal” and against Section 7(1) of the Printing Presses and Publications Act.

Among other things, Section 7(1) states that the home minister has the absolute discretion to order a ban on any publication if he is satisfied that it is likely to be prejudicial to public order or alarm public opinion or be prejudicial to the public interest

However, Surendra said the judge concluded that the requirement was not satisfied.

“The judge found there was no material put by the minister to show that the book was likely to be prejudicial to public order,” he told Malay Mail when contacted.

Surendra said the former home minister’s affidavit showed that the sole basis for the ban was based on a view Zahid had received from the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (Jakim) asserting that portions of G25’s book were not Shariah-compliant.

“The court found that a guideline by Jakim in itself doesn’t show or fulfill the requirement under that Section and there’s also a Court of Appeal decision that says that,” he said.

Surendra said the judge also noted that about one-and-half years had passed between the book’s publication in December 2015 and the ban, with no untoward incident occurring to justify the 2017 prohibition.

“So he found the ban to be illegal and he quashed it,” Surendra said.

The book Breaking the Silence: Voices of Moderation ― Islam in a Constitutional Democracy was compiled by the G25 group comprising prominent Malay-Muslim individuals including retired senior civil servants, judges, academics and professionals.

The G25 members who filed for judicial review of the ban were Datuk Noor Farida Mohd Ariffin, Datuk Zainuddeen Abdul Bahari, the group’s de-facto chairman Tan Sri Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim, the late Datuk Latifah Osman Merican and Dr Asma Abdullah.

In a previous supporting affidavit, Mohd Sheriff said the book published by Singapore-based publisher Marshall Cavendish International contained the writings of 22 leading academics, lawyers and social activists, including himself and Asma.

Mohd Sheriff had explained that the 379-page book was aimed at promoting “discussion and dialogue on a moderate practice of Islam and was to be part of the consultative process embarked upon by G25 to address the excessive politicization of religion in Malaysia”.

He had noted that former prime minister Tun Abdullah Badawi wrote the foreword in the book, in which he recognised G25’s cause “in pursuit of a moderate and tolerant Islam with justice for all”.

He had also said then prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had accepted a copy of the book from G25 members during a visit to his office on December 7, 2015.

Then the home minister, Zahid had on June 14, 2017 banned the book on grounds that it was likely to be “prejudicial to public order, alarm public opinion, be prejudicial to public interest”, with the order gazetted on July 27, 2017.

The G25 group had written to Zahid in August 2017 with a request for the book ban to be revoked in 14 days, but had to resort to filing the lawsuit.

On behalf of G25, Mohd Sheriff had in the affidavit argued that the book ban violated the G25 group’s constitutional rights to freedom of speech and equal treatment, respectively, under the Federal Constitution’s Article 10(1)(a) and Article 8(1), as well as its right to a fair hearing under Article 5 and 8 when it was not given an opportunity to be heard before the book ban.

Mohd Sheriff had argued that the book ban was “unfair and discriminative treatment” of G25 that was inconsistent with the government’s policy of pushing for a moderate approach of Islam, and that the ban was selective as the government had in many cases tolerated and acknowledged extreme views on Islam and did not take action against those who made such remarks.

The G25 group argued that the book ban should be quashed due to its illegality, procedural impropriety and as it was irrational and disproportionate, as well as G25’s legitimate expectation that the home minister would act according to the Malaysian government’s policy of promoting a “moderate approach of Islam”.