Updated: May 10, 2021 04:08 AM GMT
Malaysian Islamic Party president Abdul Hadi Awang accused Christian missionaries of preying on poor and uneducated people in impoverished communities. (Photo: YouTube)
Malaysia’s High Court has dismissed a “frivolous” lawsuit brought by two Christians against a prominent Muslim politician accused of making seditious statements about Christians.
Maklin Masiau and Lawrence Jomiji Kinsil Maximilhian, from the state of Sabah on the island of Borneo, filed a lawsuit last December against Abdul Hadi Awang, president of the Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), alleging that the politician had libeled Christians in an article published in 2016 by a PAS-run newspaper.
In the article Hadi accused Christian missionaries of preying on poor and uneducated people in impoverished communities in states like Sabah by paying them off to convert to Christianity.
“Unfortunately, after being rejected in Europe, Christian missionaries [have] taken [their] teachings to the interior areas of our country, such as in Sabah and Sarawak,” the 73-year-old politician wrote, referring to two states in Borneo where many of the country’s Christians live.
“They have spread their religion not by using knowledge and reasoned argument but by baiting their targets with money and other forms of aid. This is transgression in the name of religion. It is a danger that must be fought.”
Such views, Maklin and Lawrence argued as plaintiffs, amounted to sedition under Section 3 of the Sedition Act in the Criminal Code, which disqualified Hadi, who is currently a special envoy to the Middle East, from holding public office.
In this case, the court should impose punitive costs because a frivolous case can choke the justice system with unnecessary litigation
“We respectfully believe that the defendant has made an unfounded statement and cast aspersions on Christians and/or Christian missionaries, which has become a matter of public interest,” the two Christians argued in their lawsuit.
“As such, we verily believe and respectfully state that the defendant is unfit to hold any position in the government of Malaysia, including that of a position equivalent to a ministerial post.”
The High Court dismissed that argument on May 7, however, with a judge calling the Christians’ lawsuit “frivolous” and “an abuse of the court process.”
Judge Akhtar Tahir also ordered the plaintiffs to pay 50,000 ringgit (US$12,160) each to cover Hadi’s legal costs.
“In this case, the court should impose punitive costs because a frivolous case can choke the justice system with unnecessary litigation,” Judge Akhtar ruled, adding that “we shouldn’t allow everybody to bring frivolous actions.”
Judge Akhtar also argued that Hadi’s comments concerned only Christian missionaries and not Christians in general before chiding the two Christian plaintiffs for their own alleged “seditious tendencies” in suing Hadi over an article from several years before.
“In fact, if anybody is to be blamed for seditious tendencies, it is the plaintiffs themselves,” Judge Akhtar said. "They resurrected it to make it a new issue.”
The two plaintiffs are reportedly planning to file an appeal against the court’s judgment.
In recent years, several prominent Malaysian Muslim politicians have spoken in denigrating terms about Christians and their religion.
Many hardline Islamists, in a country where an increasingly conservative form of Islam is in ascendance, have also accused Christians of engaging in various conspiracies to “weaken Islam” and undermine the Islamic nature of Malaysian society.
There are growing concerns among Christians, who account for a little over 9 percent of the country’s 32 million citizens, that unfounded claims and trumped-up charges employed by prominent Islamists could lead to an erosion of religious freedoms for minorities in Malaysia.