How Kelantan’s latest Shariah criminal code law affects the marginalised and minorities
“We are looking at a total state intrusion that is unreasonable and really infringes on the privacy of all individuals — and by extension, it also infringes into the lives of non-Muslim persons”
(MMO) – Late last year, the Kelantan state legislative assembly passed the Kelantan Syariah Criminal Code Enactment 2019, which human rights defenders in the country have accused of encroaching on personal liberties and victimising minorities there.
Coming into force on November 21, 2021, the new enactment has increased the number of acts that it deems as criminal under the Shariah code — containing 68 sections altogether, an addition of 33 sections from the previous version passed in 1985.
The enactment also provides for harsher penalties for several acts, listing the maximum possible punishment of RM5,000 fine, three years of imprisonment, and/or six lashes of the cane.
In a report released earlier this week, groups such as Sisters in Islam (SIS), Legal Dignity, and Justice for Sisters (JFS) accused the enactment of further victimising groups who are already marginalised by encouraging discrimination and stigma.
We are looking at a total state intrusion that is unreasonable and really infringes on the privacy of all individuals — and by extension, it also infringes into the lives of non-Muslim persons,” JFS founder S. Thilaga told Malay Mail.
Malay Mail lists details on how the new enactment may adversely affect the lives of the marginalised and minorities among the Muslim community in the state administered by Islamist party PAS:
According to the report, the enactment has unfairly targeted women, in particular those who are still single, entrepreneurs especially in the line of beauty and cosmetics, human rights defenders, sex workers, lesbians, bisexuals, queer and trans women.
The enactment criminalises indecent acts or speech, the exposure of “aurat”, acts of “lesbianism” it calls musahaqah, non-cis gender expression that it deems as “changing gender or posing as the opposite sex”, and even disobedience to parents.
In Islam, “aurat” refers to certain parts of the human body that must be covered by clothing. Mainstream Muslim interpretation prescribes this as between the navel and the knees for men, and for women to only leave their face and palms uncovered.
In the report, the groups said that the enactment goes against Malaysia’s commitment as a state party to the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw).
It noted that in 2018, the Cedaw committee on Malaysia expressed concern about how the Shariah legal system has led to a gap in protecting women against discrimination.