Terengganu State’s Shariah Law Amendment Threatens Human Rights
South East Asia and Pacific Researcher
Global Human Rights Defence
On December 2, 2022, the Terengganu State Legislative Assembly officially passed the amendment to the Syariah Criminal Offences (Takzir) Enactment 2022. According to State Syariah Implementation, Education and Higher Education Committee chairman, Satiful Bahari Mamat, the six new sections and subsections include, among others, the criminalisation of pregnancy out of wedlock (Section 29A), the criminalisation of women acting like men (Section 33A ) and the criminalisation of sex “against the order of nature” (Section 36A).
We are trying to make use of the opportunity made available by maximizing the punishment based on Section 356, namely a three-year jail term, a fine of RM5,000 and six lashes. With this amendment, we hope that the well-being of Muslims, especially in Terengganu, will be better protected,” he told reporters after the state assembly session at Wisma Darul Iman on December 1, 2022.
Human rights groups in the country, including Sisters in Islam (SIS) and Justice for Sisters (JFS), have expressed their concern over these amendments and called upon the Malaysian human rights commission (Suhakam) to undertake a human rights impact assessment of the new law. In their joint statement, the group said that such amendments “further exacerbate existing harmful impacts on women, young people and LGBTQ persons, among others.”
Harmful Impacts on Women
CodeBlue, an organization promoting health care as a human right in the country, is particularly concerned with the criminalisation of out-of-wedlock pregnancy and birth. The organization considers the amendment to have “neither thought nor consideration given for the health, protection or welfare of the woman or her child.” Indeed, research by SIS and the Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW) shows that sex and pregnancy out of wedlock are one of the main contributing factors to child marriage in Malaysia. The joint statements warns that these legislations would only contribute to an increase in child marriage in the country, and perpetuate “the cycle of poverty and illiteracy among girls.”
YB Dato’ Sri Azalina binti Othman Said, former Chair of the Parliamentary Special Select Committee on Women and Children Affairs and Social Development, said that “unintended pregnancies are often the consequences of women having no right or say on their own bodies. If we can give girls and women the right to own their bodies, they can own their future.”
According to CodeBlue, the new amendment is “the latest in a long list of shariah legislation” that may undermine the safety of women and children in the country. For instance, similar criminalisation has also been passed in the States of Negeri Sembilan and Kedah, while other legislations would use pregnancy as evidence of out-of-wedlock intercourse or consider babies who are born less than 6 months of marriage to be born out of wedlock.
Harmful Impacts on the LGBTQIA+ Community
The addition of the criminalisation of women acting like men (Section 33A) and the criminalisation of sex “against the order of nature” (Section 36A) also poses a number of threats against the LGBTQIA+ community in the State of Trengganu.
Human rights groups consider the criminalisastion of persons on the basis of their gender identity and gender expression as stated under Section 33A to be unconstitutional. “[The Law] violate multiple rights guaranteed under the Federal Constitution, including the right to equality and non-discrimination, freedom of expression, freedom of movement, and the right to live with dignity,” they said in the joint statement.
In relation to the criminalisation of sex against the order of nature, the group pointed to a previous judgment of the Federal Court in the constitutional review of Section 28 of the Selangor Syariah Criminal Offences Enactment that found a similar provision to be ultra vires on grounds of violation against federal and state jurisdictions in relation to law-making.
Sources and further reading:
CodeBlue. (2022, December 5). Terengganu’s Shariah Amendment Undermines Health System—Galen Centre. CodeBlue. https://codeblue.galencentre.org/2022/12/05/terengganus-shariah-amendment-undermines-health-system-galen-centre/