KUCHING, Sept 20 — Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS) president Bobby William today urged Christian Members of Parliament from Sarawak to reject a Bill to Shariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act to increase the criminal powers of Shariah Courts if it seeks to control and restrict the propagation of non-Islamic faiths in the state.
He said Sarawakian Christians will be watching them closely if they will vote according to their conscience when the Bill is tabled in Parliament this year.
“PBDS is of the opinion that supporting this RUU355 is against our religion and as Christians, we must stand up for our faith,” he said when responding to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Yaakob’s recent statement that the federal government was currently in the midst of drafting the Shariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) (Amendment) Act to increase the criminal powers of Shariah Courts.
The Act is known by its number 355, and the proposal for the amendment is commonly known by the Malay initials for Rang Undang-undang, as RUU355.
Bobby asked if Saratok Member of Parliament Datuk Ali Biju and Puncak Borneo Member of Parliament Datuk Willie Mongin, both Christians, would vote against the Bill since they are now Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu).
He said the Christian-majority Sarawak does not have any religious issue, adding that the people of different ethnic backgrounds have the freedom to practise their faiths.
Bobby asked what is the objective of the “Malaysian Family”’ concept if RUU355 is to be enforced nationwide, controlling and restricting the propagation of other faiths.
“Where is the harmony and democracy of a multiracial nation if it is being imposed as part of the integration with the civic law?” he asked.
Bobby urged all Sarawakians, especially the non-Muslims to voice out their opposition to any attempts to control the propagation of their faiths.
“Let our voices be heard so that we can get true equality and justice for the betterment of Malaysia and Sarawak,” he said.
In a statement on September 16, Ismail Sabri Yaakob, in a parliamentary reply to Shah Alam MP Khalid Abdul Samad, had said that the government, through the Islamic and Civil Law technical committee, under the National Council for Islamic Religious Affairs, had held a series of meetings to discuss RUU 355, since 2020.
“This is to look into various aspects, especially the constitution and syarak law so that RUU 355 is more comprehensive and further strengthens the criminal jurisdiction of the Shariah courts,” Ismail Sabri said in the written reply posted on the Parliament website.
The PM said the government Bill will be presented to the states for discussion once it was finalised. Islamic law falls under state jurisdiction in Malaysia.
The controversy over the proposal to strengthen the Shariah courts first erupted when it was linked to hudud, and was seen as a way to impose harsh punishments against Muslims perceived to run afoul of Islamic laws, including those in the LGBT community.
RUU355 was tabled by PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang for the first reading in the Dewan Rakyat on May 26, 2016 as a private member’s Bill.
The Bill as proposed by Hadi sought to raise the Shariah courts’ maximum sentencing limits to 30 years’ jail, RM100,000 fine and 100 strokes of the cane.
The controversy arose when Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Religious Affairs) Datuk Ahmad Marzuk Shaary was reported to have said that the federal government was in the midst of drafting four Bills, including a Bill on control and restrictions on the development of non-Muslim religions.
Since then, some Members of Parliament and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have voiced their concerns over the Bill to control and restrict the development of non-Muslim religions.
Sarawak Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Openg, in his Malaysia Day’s address, had said the state government would reject any attempt to control and restrict religious freedom in the state.