PETALING JAYA: The proposal to amend the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 can potentially result in more injustices in the long run and paint a bad image of Islam as a punitive religion, said Sisters in Islam (SIS).
In a statement on Saturday, the non-governmental organisation said that the public deserved an explanation of the rationale behind the leap in expansion of punishment from the present limit to the proposed limit.
The group also asked how the syariah courts would decide on the proportionality of punishment to be handed out under the existing Syariah Criminal Offences Enactment (SCOE) of each state.
"Will the punishment of the crimes be the same or would they differ from state to state?" it asked.
SIS pointed out that under the existing Syariah Criminal Offences (Federal Territories) Act 1997 (SCOA) there are over 40 offences, ranging from possession of religious publications contrary to Islamic Law to khalwat (close proximity), both of which carry the maximum sentence of two years' jail or RM3,000 fine or both.
SIS also claimed that the existing Syariah Criminal Offences Enactment (SCOE) of each state had been implemented in discriminatory fashion, often targeting minority groups of society and groups of a lower income.
The group added that "bulldozing" a law through Parliament will not solve the present inconsistencies and conflict of jurisdiction between the civil and syariah courts.
"While proponents of RUU355 insist that the Bill will not affect non-Muslims, reality shows that existing syariah laws are already impacting non-Muslims in Malaysia," it said.
SIS said that the systemic weaknesses of syariah courts must be addressed, instead of focusing on increasing punishments.
"SIS calls for the state and other proponents of RUU355 to focus on Islam's message of forgiveness and repentance. Allah's forgiveness and mercy is a constant and recurring theme that is emphasised in the holy Qur'an," it said.
The hype over the Private Member's Bill to amend the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 fizzled out on Thursday when PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang deferred its debate to the Dewan Rakyat session next year.
He said that he was amending his earlier motion in May to include the maximum punishment that the Syariah courts could mete out if the amendments were to be passed, eventually.
Hadi said the amendments would see the punishment at Syariah courts increased from a three-year jail term to 30 years, RM5,000 maximum fine to RM100,000 fine and six lashes to 100 lashes.