Malaysia: The sordid failures of the illicit sex police

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Malaysia has a long history of sending its moral police, or religious affairs department officers, into people’s homes or hotel rooms to arrest them on suspicion of ‘khalwat’ or close-proximity.

But not all of these arrests are genuine and a recent ‘khalwat’ arrest exposed the sordid manner these raids are carried out.

Yesterday a husband and his wife sued the Federal Territories Islamic Religious Department (JAWI) for raiding and arresting them for khalwat.

Mohd Ridhuan Giman, 34, and Siti Sarah Maulad Abdullah, 26, were arrested on January 8 at a budget hotel room in Kuala Lumpur by JAWI officers.

The couple has been married for three years, and they are demanding an apology from JAWI for the traumatic experience that resulted not only in injuries but also wrongful detention and the exposure of the half-dressed wife to the male officers.

This is not the first time the moral police is accused of wrong-doing.

A similar situation occurred in the year 2000 when the religious police in Perak burst into the rented room of a Muslim couple who have been married for 22 years.

The couple sued the religious police in 2002.

Abdul Halim Zainal Abidin and his wife Nooriah Mohamad Ali were accused by the officials of khalwat, a crime under Malaysia’s religious laws for Muslims that is akin to adultery, but applies to unchaperoned meetings between men and unmarried women.

Offenders face up to two months in jail and a fine if convicted.

Cited in the New Straits Times, Abdul said he lodged the suit because had become frustrated at waiting for an apology from state officials.

The hunt for close-proximity couples is popular among foreign media.

Last year, a team from the UK’s award-winning Channel 4 News posted a video on YouTube showing details of how the raids are carried out against unsuspecting and unmarried Muslim couples in a hotel.

The 2:45-minute video titled “Muslim, Trans and banned in Malaysia”, opens with the scene of three officers in black uniforms knocking on the door of room 509 at the hotel, identifying themselves as “religious police” and requesting the door be opened.

But in the case of the two married couples, the officers, full of zeal broke open the doors to enter the rooms.

In yesterday’s claims against the JAWI, the couple said the officers dared film inside the room while the woman was getting dressed.

The couple was arrested although the husband showed a married certificate on his mobile phone.

Instead, the male officers had directed the wife, in front of her own husband, to put on her clothes in front of the male officers.

One of the officers kept on taking pictures and video despite being told of our client’s marital status,” he told reporters at the court complex here immediately after filing the lawsuit.

According to court documents, the wife was only wearing a sleeveless singlet with thin straps and shorts — a condition which should not be viewed by men who are not “muhrim” or the immediate family members of a woman — when the male enforcement officers barged in and saw her.

In the Youtube video by Channel 4 News, supers appeared on the screen, saying: “If found guilty of having sex outside of marriage, they may face two years in prison.”

The moral police history is littered with mishaps, but reports in the local newspapers indicate they have also ‘stopped’ hundreds of couples.