Malaysia: Court rules in favour of religious book-banning

16 October 2015

Rather than protecting writers’ and publishers’ constitutional right to freedom of artistic expression, a Federal Court in Malaysia has made a principal decision to favour Islamic laws that protect ‘the sanctity of Islam’.

ZI Publications and its director, Mohd Ezra Mohd Zaid, had challenged a Selangor religious enactment that they claim restricts freedom of expression by criminalising the publication and sale of books deemed to be un-Islamic.

Under Article 10, freedom of speech can only be restricted by parliament not the state assembly.

But the Federal Court of Appeal president Justice Md Raus Sharif disagreed, saying Article 10 must be read with Article 11(4), which allows state law to restrict the spread of religious doctrine among Muslims.

The Federal Court ruled that the Selangor legislative assembly was not unconstitutional in making a law that banned a book deemed un-Islamic. The assembly found that the Constitution allows the state to enact laws to protect the sanctity of Islam.

With this ruling, Mohd Ezra would have to face trial over charges before the Syariah Court for his involvement in the publication of ‘Allah, Love and Liberty’ written by Irshad Manji. In 2013, the Selangor Islamic authorities took the position that the book is contrary to Islamic canon law.

Under Section 16 of the enactment, any person who prints, publishes, produces, records, disseminates or possesses any book or document for sale which are contrary to the Islamic law is said to have committed an offence punishable by a fine not exceeding RM3,000 or a maximum two years’ jail or both, upon conviction.

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