On collision course over Kassim Ahmad’s case

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KUALA LUMPUR: A syariah court is insisting on proceeding with activist Dr Kassim Ahmad’s case despite an ongoing judicial review, his lawyer said yesterday.

Counsel Rosli Dahlan said the court wanted the trial to begin on Oct 20. Kassim is alleged to have insulted Islam and defied religious authorities.

Rosli said he was informed by a religious court official in Putrajaya on Wednesday that the case will go on as fixed because the Federal Territories syariah chief prosecutor Ibrahim Deris and the Federal Territories Islamic Religious Department (Jawi) were not agreeable to an adjournment.

“The irony is that Ibrahim and Jawi are parties to the judicial review filed by my client. I am dumbfounded as to why the religious court wants the matter to go on upon insistence by interested parties,” he told The Malaysian Insider.

On July 24, the Court of Appeal ruled that the High Court has the jurisdiction to hear Kassim’s judicial review application to challenge the syariah prosecutor’s decision to charge him with insulting Islam.

The High Court has fixed Nov 17 to hear the judicial review application.

Rosli said following the Court of Appeal’s ruling, religious authorities and the government had asked for some time to file their court papers before the High Court could hear the merit of the case.

“We have no problem with that but we are not deliberately delaying the proceedings because we need to obtain the decision of the civil court first.”

Rosli said he may file an application to stop Monday’s proceedings in the religious court.

A three-man Court of Appeal bench, chaired by Datuk Balia Yusof Wahi, in allowing Kassim’s appeal, had said the conduct of Ibrahim and Jawi could be scrutinised.

On July 14, judge Datuk Zaleha Yusof allowed the Attorney-General’s preliminary objection against the judicial review, citing that the subject matter was within the exclusive jurisdiction of the religious court.

However, Balia said a syariah criminal matter did not come within the meaning under the Federal Constitution.

“Syariah offence is only an offence against the precept of Islam,” he had said, adding that the bench was bound by a 1988 Supreme Court ruling in the case of Mamat Daud vs public prosecutor.

The bench chaired by the then Lord President Tun Salleh Abas said all offences created under state syariah enactments were for violation against precepts of Islam. The offences include consumption of alcohol, eating and drinking in public during the day in the fasting month, and going against a fatwa (edict) by religious authorities.

“It is not a criminal matter and therefore subject to judicial review,” Balia added.

Kassim, 81, had filed a leave application for judicial review on June 26 and had named Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom, Ibrahim, Jawi, and the government as respondents. He is seeking, among others, an order to strike out Ibrahim’s decision on March 27 to prosecute him for allegedly insulting Islam and defying the religious authorities.

He wanted his case in the Syariah Court to be suspended, pending the decision of the judicial review. — The Malaysian Insider

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on October 17, 2014.