KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 29 — Prolific writer and Muslim thinker Mohd Faizal Musa’s three-year court battle against the Home Ministry is finally over.
Attorney General Tommy Thomas has withdrawn the government’s bid to appeal against the Court of Appeal’s January 11 decision to set aside the Home Affairs Ministry’s ban on three books written by the academic under the pen name Faisal Tehrani.
“Having read the written representations on behalf of your client and taking into consideration his role as an academician, author of academic and creative books and articles, a scriptwriter and poet, I have decided that the Government of Malaysia will not proceed with its Motion for Leave to Appeal to the Federal Court against the decision of the Court of Appeal in the above-mentioned proceedings.
“Further, I will also advise the Ministry of Home Affairs to remove books written by your client from its Prohibition Order List,” Thomas wrote in a letter dated October 23 that was sighted by Malay Mail.
He noted that the three books, Karbala, Ingin Jadi Nasrallah and the award-winning Tiga Kali Seminggu, were compilation of short stories and poems that were previously published elsewhere including Utusan Malaysia and its weekend edition Mingguan Malaysia as well as Milinea Muslim, Dewan Sastera and Dewan Budaya as far back as 2000 “without any evidence of the occurrence of actions prejudicial to public order and security”.
He added that his decision was based on the fact that thousands of copies had been printed and sold before the ministry banned it and that in all that time, the books had not jeopardised national harmony.
Mohd Faizal, a research fellow at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Institute of the Malay World and Civilisation, filed a legal challenge in September 2015 against the Home Affairs Ministry, four months after it banned four of his books over alleged links to Shiah teachings.
Mohd Faizal also included his book titled Sebongkah Batu di Kuala Berang in his court filings, but the AG made no mention of it in his letter.
In his filing, Mohd Faizal argued that the ban was a violation of Articles 8(1) and 10(1)(a) of the Federal Constitution that deal with equality under the law and the right to freedom of speech and expression, respectively.
The High Court dismissed his bid for a judicial review in August 2016, but a three-judge panel at the Court of Appeal chaired by Justice Zaleha Yusof ruled in Mohd Faizal’s favour in January this year.
Zaleha said the judges had read the disputed books and found they were love stories, adding that they could not understand the reason for the ban.
She added that the ban was illegal as the ministry had not followed the provisions under Subsection 7(1) of the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984.
Speaking to Malay Mail, Mohd Faizal said he saw the AG’s decision as a symbolic victory over Malaysia’s struggle for freedom of expression and thought.
“I challenged the appeal not to allow me to be able to sell my books again, but for the fight for freedom of expression and culture which is our privilege to have, (it’s) not something the government should be blocking access to.
“Banning the books is a violation of human rights; and I will continue to fight if the Pakatan Harapan government does the same,” he said.
Mohd Faizal added the decision represented a step forward for the local literary scene, a scene he felt lacked conviction and writers brave enough to express themselves.
“I am doing this for my fellow writers, as we live in a complex society, there needs to be an outlet to express our ideas and thoughts.
“Literature is a not just a propaganda tool, it is there for the people to question the government, whether they are on the right track,” he added.