Conviction shows how unrelenting moral policing is, says lawyer


(The Rakyat Post) – When an Indonesian Catholic woman in Penang was convicted in the syariah court for khalwat (close proximity), it raised much criticism among lawmakers.

It was dubbed as the first case of its kind in the country as syariah law states that syariah courts only have jurisdiction over matters involving Muslims.

Human rights lawyer Michelle Yesudas said this was a “shocking case” that exemplified the relentlessness of moral policing, especially of foreign women.

She told The Rakyat Post that this was a clear instance of religious authorities attempting to push the boundaries of their power and succeeding, because religious authorities did not need to account for their actions most of the time.

She added that the case was one of “class discrimination” in nature and an exercise in political power as it dealt with a migrant worker from the working class.

Yesudas said the case also dealt with the expanding powers of the religious authorities that do not care if someone fell under their jurisdiction or not.

Halimah, who is a masseuse and reflexologist, pleaded guilty to the charges made against her before the Penang Syariah Court on May 15, 2012.

According to reports, her lawyer, Wan Faridulhadi Mohd Yusoff, said she was not represented during the first charge and she agreed to the facts presented to her then as she did not understand the proceedings.

“If we take away the elements of duress and if the charge had been explained properly to her, she would never have been legitimately convicted for khalwat because she is not a professing Muslim,” said Yesudas.

She said the conviction was wrong as the Constitution stipulates only a person professing the Islamic faith can be submitted to syariah jurisdiction.