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Groups condemn Jawi raid on transgender event

PETALING JAYA: Civil society groups have condemned the raid by religious officers at a transgender fund-raising event and expressed concern at the way moral policing laws were enforced.

The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) said moral policing laws have been selectively enforced, often on marginalised groups.

On Sunday, officers from the Federal Territory Islamic Religious Department (Jawi) raided a private fundraising event by a transgender community and arrested the organiser, Ira Sophia.

"The raid is another addition to the long list of abuses of power and violation of procedure by Jawi in their overzealous moral policing," said JAG in a statement on Wednesday.

"It is completely unclear whether Jawi has the authority and power to conduct raids, disallow people from leaving a venue, and taking persons into their custody," it said.

"We are extremely concerned as these are powers akin to police powers," it added.

JAG comprises Sisters in Islam, Justice for Sisters, Women's Centre for Change, Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor, Tenaganita, Perak Women for Women, Association of Women Lawyers, All Women’s Action Society, Women’s Aid Organisation, Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor.

Lawyer Siti Zabedah Kasim, who was at the event, said a group of at least 10 Jawi enforcement officers appeared at about 10pm Sunday.

She claimed that they blocked all the exits and held them in the ballroom and while most of the guests were allowed to leave, she and Ira were told that they were under arrest.

JAG said when enforcement powers were given to the authorities, they must be properly regulated and specifically provided for under specific laws.

"Where are the laws that regulate Jawi in conducting these activities?" it said.

JAG said the offences mentioned by the Jawi officers against Ira should be immediately reviewed under the Syariah Criminal Offences (Federal Territories) Act 1997 (SCOA). The ethical standards of Jawi enforcement officers should also be reviewed, it added.

"Accusing individuals of being in contempt or defiance of religious authorities for merely standing up for their rights as enshrined in the Constitution, is unconstitutional and unjust," said JAG.

"The practice of moral policing also goes against the teachings of Islam which respect one’s right to privacy and preservation of dignity.

"Jawi's actions are clearly un-Islamic as it was aimed to intimidate and humiliate the transgender community in Malaysia," it said.

"Jawi or other state religious authorities cannot be allowed to continuously undermine the Federal Constitution because of the misguided perception that they are guardians of Islam and morality in Malaysia," said JAG.