Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Malaysia: Respect Rights of Religious Community

(New York, August 4, 2005)?In its persecution of the Sky
Kingdom, the Malaysian government is now denying members of
the religious community basic due process rights, Human Rights
Watch said today.

Sky Kingdom members who will appear today before a Shariah
court in Terrengganu province on charges of practicing a "deviant
religion" do not have legal defense counsel or the opportunity to
prepare a defense. On July 31, government officials violated a
court order by demolishing the community's religious structures.

Forty-nine members of the Sky Kingdom are charged with
violating Islamic precepts under section 10 of Malaysia's Shariah
Criminal Offenses Enactment 2001. If convicted, they could be
fined and jailed up to two years.

"The Malaysian government is targeting this religious community
simply for their beliefs," said Sam Zarifi, deputy Asia director at
Human Rights Watch. "The government is violating international
standards by destroying the Sky Kingdom's religious structures
and now threatening to throw the members in jail without a fair
trial."

Lawyers from Terrengganu province who are accredited to appear
in Shariah (Islamic law) courts have refused to represent Sky
Kingdom members. At least some of them have expressed fears of
reprisal from religious extremists or loss of their accreditation. A
Shariah lawyer from Selangor, appointed by the Malaysian Bar
Council, will inform the Shariah court on August 4 that the Sky
Kingdom defendants have no legal representation.

Malaysia's federal constitution recognizes three parallel court
systems?civil, shariah, and, in the Borneo states of Sabah and
Sarawak, native courts. Shariah is a state matter under the Federal
Constitution. Shariah courts have jurisdiction over persons
professing the religion of Islam in matters of personal and family
law, including offenses such as apostasy, blasphemy and heresy.

"Due process rights cannot be selectively enforced. The
Terengganu Shariah court must enforce the right to a fair trial
enshrined international law," Zarifi said. "The right to counsel to
prepare a defense in a penal proceeding is an integral component
of a fair trial and a fundamental mandate of international human
rights law."

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides that
"[e]veryone charged with a penal offense has the right to be
presumed innocent until proved guilty according to the law in a
public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his
defense." Legal representation is an essential component of
defense for anyone facing penal sanctions, including those under
shariah law.

The Sky Kingdom was founded by Ayah Pin (whose real name is
Ariffin Muhammad), who claims to be the reincarnation of the
holy figures of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Islam. The
community was one of 22 declared as "deviant sects of Islam" by
the Malaysian government last month.

On July 31, officials from the land office, state religious affairs
department, and the police began demolishing religious
structures?including a giant teapot and an umbrella-shaped
building?at the Sky Kingdom compound in Terangganu. The
destruction commenced despite a ruling staying the demolition by
the Kuala Terengganu High Court on June 21.

On July 18, a mob composed of 30 to 35 individuals, who were
masked and dressed in robes, launched a pre-dawn attack on the
Sky Kingdom. The mob reportedly tossed Molotov cocktails,
slashed car tires with machetes, broke the windows of several
homes, and partially scorched religious structures. Malaysian
police have failed to arrest anyone involved in the attack. Instead,
58 members of the religious group, including 30 women and five
children, were arrested on July 20 by the state religious affairs
department and the local police.

To view this document on the Human Rights Watch web site,
please visit: http://hrw.org/english/docs/2005/08/04/malays11587.htm

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