SHAH ALAM, Dec 17 — Mohd Ezra Mohd Zaid today expressed his happiness at finally being freed from a Shariah trial following his arrest by Selangor Islamic religious enforcers almost eight years ago over a book in Bahasa Malaysia that was published by his company ZI Publications Sdn Bhd.
Shortly after the Petaling Shariah subordinate court decided to discharge and acquit him from a Shariah charge over the book’s publication, Ezra took to Twitter to share his gratitude on the decision and to all who had supported him.
“I'm a free man. Acquitted. Justice has her own tempo and schedule; I'm just happy and grateful she's arrived. Many of you have been supportive of me; thanks for being kind. 👋” he wrote on Twitter.
🌅 I'm a free man. Acquitted. Justice has her own tempo and schedule; I'm just happy and grateful she's arrived. Many of you have been supportive of me; thanks for being kind. 👋 https://t.co/EDJTrALCJa pic.twitter.com/289wLBEVey— Ezra Zaid🎙️ (@EzraZaid) December 17, 2020
Earlier just before the Shariah judge started the court proceedings to read out his decision on whether to fully release Ezra from the Shariah trial, Ezra had said on Twitter that the Selangor Islamic Religious Department’s (Jais) May 29, 2012 raid of the ZI Publications office and the seizure of books and his arrest then had happened “3,124 days ago”.
“In court right now, hopefully for the last time. Maybe today's the day,” he had said in that tweet.
Last week, the Shariah prosecution had applied to the Shariah court for three court orders, namely to partially release Ezra without acquitting him via a discharge not amounting to an acquittal (DNAA) order, and for the books to effectively not be returned to his company ZI Publications but to be forfeited and destroyed, and to block Ezra from talking about the case.
The DNAA sought by the Shariah prosecution would have enabled them to charge Ezra again in the future on the same offence if they wanted to, but Shariah judge Shukran Yusof today agreed that Ezra should be fully released from the Shariah charge due to final decisions made by the civil courts via the Court of Appeal and Federal Court to quash the Shariah trial.
The judge allowed the Shariah prosecution’s application in terms of the books and ordered for all 180 copies of the BM translation of Allah, Liberty and Love to be forfeited and to be surrendered to Islamic religious enforcers to be destroyed, but rejected the application for Ezra or his agents to be prohibited from talking about the Shariah case.
The Shariah court proceedings started at around 12.30pm and ended at 1.53pm, during which the judge meticulously went through the chronology of events in the trial, the points of law and the arguments submitted by both Ezra’s defence and the prosecution, besides providing the reasons for his decision.
The judge also acknowledged that the Shariah case has been in the court for years. He said the Shariah court was giving time for Ezra to exercise his legal rights of going to the civil courts.
When met outside the courtroom, Ezra said he was grateful for the Shariah judge’s decision.
“It’s been about eight years or so. I’m just very happy that this entire thing has come to a conclusion and I’m grateful to my family and lawyers, and I’m just very happy that it’s done forever,” he said.
Also present was Ezra’s lead lawyer in the Shariah trial, Zulkifli Che Yong.
With the Shariah court’s decision today for a full discharge and acquittal, this means that Ezra is now fully free from the Shariah trial where he could have been facing jail or fine or both if convicted.
What happened in the last eight years
In May 2012, ZI Publications had published the Malay-language translation of Irshad Manji’s book titled Allah, Liberty and Love, with Jais then on May 29, 2012 raiding and searching ZI Publications’ office and seizing 180 copies of the translated book Allah, Kebebasan dan Cinta from the office.
On the same day of the raid of the company, Jais had also arrested Ezra.
Ezra was then charged in the Shariah court on March 7, 2013 in his capacity as ZI Publications’ director and shareholder with the Shariah offence under Section 16(1)(a) of Syariah Criminal Offences (Selangor) Enactment 1995.
Under the Shariah offence of Section 16(1)(a) that Ezra was charged in 2013, any person who — among other things — publishes any book containing anything contrary to Islamic law commits an offence, with such an offence punishable by a maximum fine of RM3,000 or a maximum two-year jail term or both.
Over the years, Ezra had in the civil courts mounted several court challenges related to the seizure of the books from his company and also his arrest and the Shariah trial against him.
Just weeks before the High Court was due to deliver a decision in Ezra’s judicial review application or challenge against his arrest and Shariah prosecution, the Shariah trial against him at the Petaling Shariah Subordinate Court in Shah Alam started on February 22, 2018.
Subsequently, the High Court on March 7, 2018 dismissed Ezra’s challenge against his arrest and prosecution in the Shariah court, which then led to Ezra filing an appeal at the Court of Appeal.
On September 25, 2019, the Court of Appeal’s three-man panel had unanimously decided to grant a court order to quash Jais’ arrest of Ezra as well as the Shariah prosecution against him.
The Court of Appeal had also unanimously ordered that damages or compensation to be assessed for the “mental distress, agony and torture” faced and experienced by Ezra as a result of Jais’ wrongful action against both ZI Publications and himself, and to have the High Court assess the damages that should be paid to Ezra.
Jais and the Selangor state Islamic authorities had on February 13, 2020 obtained a stay from the Court of Appeal on the September 2019 decision as they wanted to pursue an appeal at the Federal Court, and had also agreed to defer the Shariah trial until the Federal Court decides the matter.
The Shariah trial was later put on hold as Jais and the others sought leave to appeal at the Federal Court against the Court of Appeal’s decision. Previously, eight prosecution witnesses had been called to testify in Ezra’s Shariah trial, and it is understood that there were more prosecution witnesses that had yet to testify.
According to the prosecution’s written submissions, seven witnesses testified for the prosecution. It had prepared an eighth witness who was to testify in October last year, but the Shariah trial at that time was deferred until the Federal Court’s full resolution of the matter.
On September 29, 2020, the Federal Court dismissed Jais’ bid for leave to appeal, which meant that the Court of Appeal’s September 2019 decision to quash both the arrest and Shariah prosecution of Ezra still stands.
The only matter that remains now is for the High Court to determine the amount of compensation that has to be paid to Ezra over his ordeal, as previously directed by the Court of Appeal in September 2019.