Women's group decries planned Islamic laws in Malaysian state as discriminatory

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - A women's group demanded Tuesday that a Malaysian state government abandon its plans to pass Islamic laws that could include whipping women who are deemed to have made false allegations of rape.

Sisters in Islam, which is leading a coalition of 11 women's groups in opposing a bill for hudud, or Islamic criminal law, said it was discriminatory and a gross violation of the principles of justice.

While the state bill is never likely to be implemented because it clashes with the federal constitution, which has precedence, many women fear it will lead to a further erosion of their position in society. The rights group said many women complain they are already discriminated against by Islamic laws which apply nationally and are less stringent than those proposed in eastern Terengganu state.

The bill is the latest in a series of moves to introduce increasingly conservative measures in Terengganu, which has been ruled by the fundamentalist Pan-Malaysia Islamic Party since 1999.

Under the bill, women who allege rape can be charged with making slanderous accusations and flogged 80 times.

It also states that women cannot be trial witnesses, and that an unmarried woman who becomes pregnant has committed a crime akin to adultery. Some details, such as the punishment for the adultery crime, were not immediately available.

The federal government says the bill is a ploy to make Islam a political issue between the fundamentalist party and the government, which is dominated by the Malay Muslim-based party of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

The two parties compete for votes among Malay Muslims, who are more than 60 percent of Malaysia's 23 million population. The fundamentalist party claims the government is not Islamic enough, while the government says its opponents encourage extremism.

Malaysia has large ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities — mostly Christian, Buddhist or Hindu — which fear their rights may be eroded amid political infighting among Muslim Malays, although Malaysia's constitution also enshrines a system of secular laws and freedom of religion.

Terengganu government officials have offered to meet opponents of the bill and say it is likely to be amended before it is introduced to the state parliament next month.

On Sunday, a Malay-language newspaper quoted Terengganu's Chief Minister Abdul Hadi Awang as saying clauses could be added to clarify that victims of crime would be protected. He did not give details. He also did not offer to remove the clauses related to alleged rape victims.

The fundamentalist party in 1993 introduced hudud laws in Kelantan, another state it controls, but they have never been enforced because policing is under the jurisdiction of the federal government.