KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 25 — The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) has urged the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) to immediately cease investigations into activist Maryam Lee for allegedly insulting the Islamic faith.
The NGO said, instead of frightening women into not telling their stories, the government and religious authorities should be creating safe spaces for women to come forward, share their experiences and be believed.
“JAG is concerned that Maryam Lee has been summoned to assist an investigation by Jais under Section 10 (a) of the Syariah Criminal Enactment 1995.
“The charge carries a maximum punishment of RM3,000 fine, or three years of jail, or both, if found guilty,” said JAG in a statement today.
The enactment criminalises “any person who by words which are capable of being heard or read or by drawing, marks or other forms of representation which are visible or capable of being visible or in another matter: (a) insults or brings into contempt the religion of Islam”.
“It is believed that the reason for the investigation is likely related to Maryam’s book, Unveiling Choice, which was published and launched earlier this year.
“The book neither promotes nor discourages readers from exemplifying her actions, but in fact explores the tenets of the decision from one person’s experiences and point of view.
“Stories that reflect the varied realities of women are important, as it contributes to the diversity of experiences and discussions around how women are affected by social structures and pressures,” JAG added.
Such forms of unfair scrutiny, stereotyping and stigmatisation by society will discourage women from coming forward with their stories, JAG said.
“Disturbingly, this has contributed to women and children experiencing prolonged exposure to violence and injustice, often in loneliness and silence.
“Therefore, the silencing and judging of women who do tell their stories needs to stop,” the NGO said.
Yesterday, Maryam said in a statement that she believes the case is linked to a forum on Malay women and discarding the hijab back in April, where her book was also launched.
Maryam appeared in the forum in April with legal professional and social media commentator Dian Sofia, and journalist and women’s rights activist Mohani Niza.
She has since urged her readers to send their testimonies to the authorities explaining how the book is not insulting Islam and call for Jais to drop investigations against those sharing the personal journeys of women who take off their hijab.