By Amin Iskandar | The Malaysian Insider
The authorities must speed up action against Datuk Ibrahim Ali over his Bible-burning threat, says retired Attorney-General Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman, adding any further delay in acting against the veteran politician could be held against the establishment ahead of Election 2013.
The vocal Ibrahim, who heads right-wing Malay group Perkasa, had sparked a firestorm last week when he reportedly called on Muslims to torch Malay-language copies of the Christian holy book that describes the Christian god as “Allah”, an Arabic word many Muslims here believe to be exclusive to their community.
“The issue is not the burning of the Bible. What is in the issue is, did he utter those words?” Abu Talib told The Malaysian Insider in an interview.
“If so, whether those words were seditious within the Sedition Act, reading it as a whole and in the context it was made. So, whether the Bible was burned is not material though helpful in the prosecution of the case if he is charged,” he said.
The government’s former top lawyer noted the police reports filed complaining about Ibrahim’s provocative remarks were related to the “Allah” dispute that has been simmering for the past four years.
He said there was no reason for the law enforcers to procrastinate deciding whether or not to prosecute the independent federal lawmaker who has been accused of inciting tension among Malaysia’s Muslim majority camp and followers of other faiths.
Abu Talib has been among others who have accused the A-G’s Chambers of practising selective prosecution.
“The police said they were recording statement from relevant witnesses. Surely they don’t require so much time to complete their investigations and make a decision if they are committed to a fair and impartial investigation.
“In fairness to him, clear him fast if he has not acted contrary to the Sedition Act 1948 or for that matter, any law applicable,” said the 73-year-old, who served as A-G for 13 years from 1980 to 1993, referring to Ibrahim.
The Bar Council and opposition lawmaker Karpal Singh have urged the government to charge the Pasir Mas MP with sedition but the incumbent A-G Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail has said action will only be taken against Ibrahim if bibles were burnt, and that the latter’s statement was not of grave concern.
Weighing in on the issue, Abu Talib said Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had worked to dismantle archaic laws, namely the Internal Security Act (ISA) — which had been widely panned as a tool to suppress dissent — to bring the country’s justice system up to speed and in line with international human rights policies.
“Democracy, being government of, for and by the people, implies that it is the populace that is to be served and the elected is the servant, not the reverse,” said Abu Talib, who has chaired the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia.
The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) and the police force have taken a public beating in recent days with the Pakatan Rakyat federal opposition accusing the two public institutions of working with its political foe, Barisan Nasional, to keep the ruling coalition in power.
The AGC under Abdul Gani’s leadership has been hit with allegations of practising selective prosecution, including from Abu Talib and other retired civil servants such as former Kuala Lumpur criminal investigation police chief Datuk Mat Zain Ibrahim.
A recent survey of five public institutions by the Merdeka Center found the police force bottoming out among Election 2013 first-time voters compared to both federal and state governments, the judiciary, the election regulator and political parties.
Politicians and local clergymen had lashed out at Ibrahim, the Perkasa founder and president, for allegedly stoking religious hatred and driving a deeper wedge between Muslims and non-Muslims.
Muslims are Malaysia’s biggest religious group at 60 per cent, while the minority Christians, who form just under 10 per cent of the 28 million population, have been at the forefront of issues confronting the non-Muslim community, which are provided for under the country’s constitution.
The Malaysian Islamic Development Department also upset church leaders with its sermon last Friday, in which it warned Muslims nationwide of “enemies of Islam” that would try to confuse them into believing that all religions share the same god.
Muslim and Christian leaders here have been at loggerheads over use of the Arabic word “Allah” despite a 2009 High Court judgment that ruled Muslims did not have an exclusive right to the word “Allah”.
Debate resurfaced last month after DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng, who is also the Penang chief minister, called on Putrajaya to lift a ban on Malay-language bibles in Sabah and Sarawak, where the “Allah” word had been in use for centuries.
A Sabah church group has also alleged that the religious freedom of Christian Bumiputeras was under attack, pointing out that most adherents of the faith in Malaysia came from east Malaysia and used the Malay language.
A Buddhist group has urged the National Unity and Integration Department, which is under the purview of the Prime Minister’s Department, to resolve the drawn-out dispute over the usage of “Allah”.