Malaysia: FT Religious Department told to disband squad

The Star - Malaysia
The Cabinet told the Federal Territory Religious Department to disband the "snoop team" as it is tantamount to invasion of privacy. With this move, they sent a clear message "forget about it" to other groups that may have plans to set up similar units.
Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Radzi Sheikh Ahmad said the Cabinet ministers were incredulous that such a squad was being formed "right under their noses" in Putrajaya.
"It was Kadir (Information Minister Datuk Paduka Abdul Kadir Sheikh Fadzir) who brought up the matter at the (Cabinet) meeting," Radzi said yesterday.

He added that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi stressed that the Cabinet should stand firm by its earlier decision that no groups should be formed to spy on people on the basis of moral grounds.

"We have to be consistent. That was our decision when a group wanted to form such a squad in Malacca. The Prime Minister said they should not be allowed because there could also be legal repercussions," he said.

"This involves invading people's privacy. Although (the Federal Territory Religious Department or Jawi) said the group can assist in disaster or provide other assistance, it's a lame excuse. It's unnecessary because eventually there will be people snooping around."

Radzi added that Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Dr Abdullah Zin, who is in charge of religious affairs, was not at the meeting yesterday and "we could not get the real picture of the Jawi move from him".

Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Mohd Nazri Aziz said the Cabinet's stand applied to all states, and not just the Federal Territory and Malacca.

Nazri said the Government had already rejected last year the plan by the 4B Youth movement led by Malacca Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam to set up an Islamic snoop squad dubbed "Mat Skodeng", where youths would be encouraged to spy on couples and to report those who engage in immoral activities.

"For one, these people are not trained. You can't simply give any Tom, Dick and Harry the powers to spy and catch people," he said, adding that there was already the police to take action against people who break the law.

Kadir, when contacted, said it was "not the business" of untrained volunteers to snoop on people.

He said many of his Cabinet colleagues were shocked at the decision by Jawi to form a snoop team "especially in view of the Cabinet decision a few months ago on a similar moral squad in Malacca".

"We are surprised this has happened again. They (Jawi) should understand that there are already laws and regulations on indecent behaviour in public," he said.

On Tuesday, Jawi director Che Mat Che Ali announced that 75 people had signed up to be part of the Putrajaya Islamic Council Volunteers Squad, which would look out for people performing "indecent acts", such as couples showing affection in public, including holding hands.

In Putrajaya, Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri Dr Fong Chan Onn said the Cabinet did not see the need for volunteers to go around the administrative capital and be the "moral police".

He said this was the Cabinet's general opinion when the matter was discussed yesterday.

Jawi public relations officer Idris Hassan said the voluntary squad would have no powers to arrest Muslim couples committing indecency in public or those engaging in vice activities, but could only advise them.

"This squad is formed with the sincere wish to advise Muslim couples to be decent and not to commit anything that can smear the image of the religion," he told Bernama.

By SHAHANAAZ HABIB, JANE RITIKOS and SIM LEOI LEOI and published on 19 January 2006