Last edited: November 06, 2004

Malaysian State Legislature Passes Bill on Strict Islamic Criminal Code

Associated Press, July 8, 2002

By Sean Yoong

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia—Defying heavy criticism, Muslim fundamentalists passed a bill in a state legislature Monday that would impose harsh Islamic criminal laws, including death by stoning for adultery and cutting off hands and feet for theft.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has accused the Pan-Malaysia Islamic Party of encouraging extremism and vowed that the federal government will block the law from being implemented in the northeastern state of Terengganu, which the fundamentalists control.

The state government in Kelantan, the other Malaysian state controlled by the Islamic opposition party, passed similar laws in 1993 but they have never been enforced because of federal government objections.

Terengganu Chief Minister Abdul Hadi Awang introduced the bill Sunday in the state legislature, where his party controls 28 of 32 seats.

Under the code, a robber who kills his victim can be sentenced to death and crucified. A thief’s right hand is amputated for his first offense, and his left foot for the second. A Muslim who renounces Islam is punished by death. Sodomy and adultery are punishable by death by stoning. Muslims who consume alcohol can be whipped up to 80 times.

Voting on the bill was originally scheduled for Tuesday, but Islamic party officials wanted it sooner, said Rosol Wahid, one of four Terengganu legislators belonging to Mahathir’s United Malays National Organization.

Rosol said a ballot was conducted at about 5.30 p.m. local time (0930 GMT), past the legislature’s regular hours. All 28 Islamic party members voted for the bill, while the four UMNO lawmakers abstained, he said.

Rosol said that the UMNO legislators didn’t vote against the bill outright so that the fundamentalists could not brand them as being bad Muslims.

"We have vigorously objected to the bill," Rosol told The Associated Press. "We believe that this is a politically motivated effort by their party to win support by appearing to be more Islamic."

The bill still needs approval from Terengganu’s sultan, who is the state’s constitutional ruler, and must subsequently be brought to the federal Parliament because it involves criminal laws.

The Islamic party, which competes with Mahathir’s party for votes from Malay Muslims, who make up more than 60 percent of Malaysia’s 23 million people, has defended the bill.

"Although our penalties are harsh and terrifying, we must realize that these offenses and sins ... are truly evil and despicable," Abdul Hadi told the assembly, 450 kilometers (280 miles) northeast of Kuala Lumpur, on Sunday.

Abdul Hadi, a hardliner, has been the party’s acting president since the death of more moderate leader Fadzil Noor on June 23 following recent heart bypass surgery.

The so-called hudud code would apply only to the Muslim majority in Terengganu, but it worries the non-Muslim minority and has been portrayed by Mahathir at the national level as evidence that the fundamentalists twist the tolerant teachings of Islam.

In Terengganu and Kelantan, the fundamentalists have imposed—but unevenly enforced—rules banning gambling outlets and the open sale of alcohol, and forced shops to have separate payment counters for men and women.

The Terengganu state government is also considering rules banning bikinis from beaches, though tourism is a pillar of the local economy.

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