Malaysian state plans to enact Islamic laws

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia's Muslim opposition party plans to defy the government again next month by introducing strict Islamic laws in a second state it rules, even though the consitution bars their use, party officials said on Thursday.

Constitutionally, the federal government controls the criminal code and Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who represents a modern brand of Islam, takes the stance that strict sharia (Islamic) laws are difficult to apply in a country that values pluralism and tolerance.

Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS) has already enacted the penal code or "hudud", which carries punishments like death by stoning for adultery and amputation of limbs for theft, in the northeast state of Kelantan.

But the federal government refuses to sanction its use.

PAS is now planning to do the same in neighbouring Terengganu -- the second state it took control of in elections in 1999.

"It is the duty of the state government of Terengganu as an Islamic government to enact these laws," Dr. Mohd Hatta Ramli, a PAS central committee member told Reuters. "If there was a sympathetic federal government they would be used."

Terengganu's Chief Minister Abdul Hadi Awang, the deputy spiritual leader of PAS, is known for his blunt dogma and his party wants to turn multi-cultural Malaysia, where just over half the 23 million population is Muslim, into an Islamic theocracy.

The federal constitution guarantees freedom of religion for non-Muslims and does not define the state as Islamic.

Rais Yatim, the minister for legal affairs in the prime minister's office, said last week all state legislation needed consent from the Attorney-General's chambers to ensure they were in line with federal laws.

But, Abdul Hadi says the draft bill will not be submitted for vetting before it is tabled in the state assembly.

"We feel our obligation to God is greater than fulfilling the demands of the AG's chambers," the chief minister was quoted as saying in the New Straits Times daily.

Attorney-General Abdul Gani Patail said he wanted to avoid being dragged into a public, political debate.

"I don't want to get into a media war," he told Reuters on Thursday.


Women's groups have decried the state government's moves to introduce laws they say could result in oppression and injustice, especially against women.

"We urge the Terengganu state government to end its mysogynistic attitude," eleven women's groups wrote in a letter, published by PAS newspaper Harakah.

The "hudud" code stipulates that rape victims unable to prove sex was forced upon them can be sentenced to 80 and 100 lashes. The code also says at least four Muslim men must have witnessed such a rape and women cannot become legal witnesses.

Hadi's political secretary Husin Ismail said Terengganu would table the proposed sharia bill in its state legislative assembly on July 7, but added that there would be amendments.

He did not say what the changes would be.

"We are also sensitive to women's rights," Husin said over the telephone from Terengganu's capital, Kuala Terengganu. "The Attorney-General can study the law after we pass it."