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The Sun Daily: NGOs bring up human rights issues in meeting with Obama (29 April 2014)
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NGOs bring up human rights issues in meeting with Obama

PETALING JAYA: The controversial proposal by the PAS-led Kelantan state government to introduce hudud Law cropped up in the meeting between 10 civil society representatives and US President Barack Obama.

Bar Council president Christopher Leong said the issue was also raised by Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF) chairman Dr. Ahmad Farouk Musa and Sisters in Islam (SIS) executive director Ratna Osman.

"It was conveyed to Obama during the meeting that there is a proposal to introduce hudud law; this is very worrying and it would not be a good thing for Malaysia.

"Any criminal justice system with any bodily mutilation as part of its teachings is unacceptable in this day and age," he told theSun yesterday.

Obama was also informed that fatwas declared by Islamic authorities, which are not legally binding, are applied in practice by government departments.

Leong used the examples of government agencies refusing to reverse a child's status as a Muslim even though he or she was converted unilaterally by a Muslim convert parent who is married to a non-Muslim.

The abuse of laws to stifle or deny freedom of speech, such as charging dissidents with the Sedition Act and controlling the print media with the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) was also discussed at the meeting.

Leong informed Obama that detention without trial has been reintroduced in Malaysia under the pretext of combating serious crime via amendments to the Prevention of Crime Act.

He told Obama that the US can be a moral compass and lead other nations including Malaysia to abolish detention without trial by first abolishing the Guantanamo Bay facility.

Leong pointed out that when Obama visited the National Mosque, he was commended by Imam Tan Sri Syaikh Ismail Mohammad for addressing the imam with his limited knowledge of Bahasa Malaysia and Arabic.

"The Imam reportedly found it endearing that Obama replied him with 'insya Allah' and 'terima kasih'; it is ironic in the sense that non-Muslim Malaysians would be liable to criminal offences in most states throughout Malaysia if they said 'insya Allah'," he said.

Leong said Obama has agreed to help address human rights issues in Malaysia while local civil societies have agreed to do the same in return.

He also personally agreed with Obama's assertion that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak intends to push forward moderation and economic reforms but there are elements from within and outside the government working against him.

Ratna said the issue of racial and religious extremism kept cropping up during the meeting and Obama seemed shocked at some of the revelations by the non-governmental organisations.

"We all agreed that this is not good for a multicultural and religious society like Malaysia; we also talked about the vilification of human rights defenders, and the government's attack on the call for free and fair elections," she said.

When discussing the "Allah" issue, Obama was also surprised to find out that it was the government who appealed a high court decision that the Catholic publication the Herald could use "Allah", which resulted in the appellate court reversing the ruling.

He was equally taken aback when he learned of a fatwa that declared female genital mutilation to be compulsory when discussing women rights issues.

"Although Obama can see Malaysia's development, Muslim women are still being dictated by a conservative and patriarchal Islam, which affects the lives of Muslim women," Ratna said.

She said while the President did not directly comment on any of the issues, he was clear that the government must not take away the right of the people to practice their own religion.


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