A group of moderate former civil servants known as Group 25 (G25) was granted permission by the High Court in Kuala Lumpur today to initiate a challenge on the ban of its book titled "Breaking the Silence: Voices of Moderation - Islam in a Constitutional Democracy".
The leave to formally challenge the book ban was granted by Justice Kamaludin Md Said.
G25's lawyers Malik Imtiaz Sarwar and Surendra Ananth said senior federal counsel Shamsul Bolhassan from the Attorney-General's Chambers did not object to the leave application.
Leave, or permission, is sought in judicial review proceedings first to make sure the challenge is not frivolous and vexatious.
Malik told reporters that the court has fixed Jan 23 for case management.
The book, which was published in December 2015, had its forward written by former prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, while a copy was given to Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak that same month.
However, the book was gazetted as banned by the Home Ministry on July 27 last year.
G25, led by Noor Farida Ariffin, filed the judicial review application last October for a court order (certiorari) to quash the book ban which was made under Section 7 of the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984.
Besides Noor Farida (photo), the other plaintiffs are Zainuddeen Abdul Bahari, former Finance Ministry secretary-general Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kessim, Latifah Osman Merican and Dr Asma Abdullah. They named Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi as the respondent.
In an affidavit in support of the application, Sheriff said G25, which comprises retired senior civil servants, judges, academicians and professionals, want to play a constructive role as the voice of moderation in Islam by championing Al-Maqasid al Shariah.
They recognised that while Islam is the official religion, its administration should be in line with the constitutional provisions regarding the role of Islam, and fundamental rights to freedom of expression and worship.
As a result of this, the movement decided to publish a book to create greater awareness that national interests must be upheld and to push for a society with peace and progress.
“The book is to promote discussion and dialogue on a moderate practice of Islam and to address the politicisation of religion in Malaysia,” Sheriff said.
“It comprises writings by 22 leading academicians, including myself and Asma,” he said, adding that the book received rave reviews.
'Ban contrasted with gov't's position'
Sheriff added that Najib received a copy of the book on Dec 7, 2015, given to him by G25 members Tawfik Ismail and the late Zaliah Ismail, after the book launch.
On June 14, last year Zahid ordered the book be banned on the grounds that it was prejudicial to public order, created an alarm to public opinion, and was prejudicial to public interests.
The order was gazetted on July 27, 2017.
Sheriff said the ban contrasted with the position taken by the government led by Najib on numerous occasions, both nationally and internationally supporting Wasatiyah (moderation).
Najib, he added, advocated for moderation during the Umno assembly in 2013 and also in 2016, during the Kuala Lumpur International Youth Discourse, and this was reciprocated again by the prime minister last year, where he said Malaysians practice a moderate approach in Islam.
Sheriff said the group had on Aug 14 last year inquired from the Home Ministry the reasons for the ban.
“We asked a reply within 14 days, but there was no reply. I verily believe there that the ban disproportionately violates G25's right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 10(1)(a) of the Federal Constitution.
“The ban has no legal or factual basis and is, therefore, ultra vires of Article 10,” he added.
By issuing the ban, Sheriff said, Zahid had acted against the policy and practice of the Malaysian government.