By Ida Lim
KUALA LUMPUR, July 9 — The Federal Territory Islamic Affairs Department (JAWI) has urged the syariah court to speed up its case against a staff member of Borders because it claims attention from the media and bloggers may influence the outcome.
JAWI had last month charged a Borders bookstore manager in the Kuala Lumpur syariah court with distributing copies of a book deemed to be against Islamic law (hukum syarak).
However, Berjaya Books, the owner of Borders, had on June 25 won leave from the civil court to judicially review JAWI’s actions, including what it claims was an “improper” prosecution of its Muslim employee Nik Raina Nik Abdul Aziz.
But two days later, JAWI applied to the syariah court to bring the case forward to early August, saying that it “involves public interest that requires immediate action towards early disposal.”
This was needed to “provide clarification to the media and bloggers” whose active discussion of the case may influence its outcome, JAWI’s chief prosecutor wrote in the June 27 letter to the syariah court.
Berjaya’s lawyers, however, claimed that this reason “has nothing to do with the accused’s innocence or guilt, but rather to use the court as a forum to answer the media and bloggers”, saying that it will affect Nik Raina’s right to a fair trial.
In its July 5 reply to the syariah court, it described JAWI’s action as a possible “abuse of the process of the court” and “bordering on misconduct as a prosecutor”.
Berjaya’s lawyers insist that the case be heard in September, as was fixed earlier, instead of August, saying that the syariah court had delayed the case because of the pending judicial review in the civil court.
They further claimed that both sides had previously agreed to the September date, pointing out that JAWI’s chief prosecutor did not object to it then.
The judicial review will be heard on September 5 in the Kuala Lumpur High Court.
JAWI enforcers raided a Borders bookstore branch and seized copies of Canadian Muslim author Irshad Manji’s book titled “Allah, Liberty and Love” on May 23 before it was banned.
Borders noted that the Home Ministry had only gazetted the book ban on May 29 and published it on June 14.
Nik Raina was charged under section 13 (1) of the Syariah Criminal Offences (Federal Territories) Act 1997, which carries a RM3,000 fine or a maximum of two years’ jail or both.
Borders had earlier said that Nik Raina as a store manager “does not have influence or control over the selection of books.”
The three applicants of the judicial review are Berjaya, Borders assistant general manager of operations and merchandising Stephen Fung and Nik Raina.
They want to challenge the actions of JAWI, the home minister and the minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of Islamic Religious Affairs.