Friday, January 20, 2006

FT Religious Department wants to go ahead with its snoop squad


KUALA LUMPUR: The Federal Territory Religious Department (Jawi) wants to go ahead with its snoop squad, against the Cabinet's decision.

Jawi public relations officer Idris Hussein said it was not given the opportunity to explain to the Government the purpose of the unit's formation.

The department would wait for Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Dr Abdullah Zin to return from Mecca to brief him on the matter, he said when contacted yesterday.

“The volunteers are tasked to provide us with information on those who commit indecent acts,” he added.

“They are to educate the people and get closer to them so they can explain to the public why they should not be involved in unhealthy activities.”

He said the department understood that there were fears that the people’s privacy might be affected, but gave an assurance that the volunteers were well-trained.

“They are only tasked to talk to the people and they are not allowed to harass them,” he added.

“We hope that Dr Abdullah will provide a detailed explanation to the Cabinet about this after we meet him so that they will allow us to continue.”

Idris explained that the Putrajaya Islamic Council Volunteer Squad was originally formed because the surau committee members in a precinct in Putrajaya were asked to perform two duties: help religious enforcement officers tackle khalwat (close proximity) cases and provide assistance to the Muslim community in such emergencies as fires or accidents.

He said the volunteers dealing with khalwat had been briefed on their scope of duties and how they were to act if they came across Muslims indulging in such activities.

“They don’t have the power to arrest, and can only advise the public against committing indecent acts,” Idris added.

“They cannot be confrontational and must retreat and inform us if anything untoward happens.

“Only enforcement officers such as those from Jawi or the state religious departments can detain people.”

Sources said the decision to form the snoop squad was prompted by complaints from residents of couples, including foreigners, acting “indecently” in public areas, some even witnessed by children.

The sources said that due to the shortage of enforcement officers, mosque committee representatives were asked to help out.

On Tuesday, Jawi director Che Mat Che Ali said 75 people had signed up to be part of the squad that would look out for people performing “indecent acts”, such as showing of public affection like holding hands.

The Cabinet then directed the Federal Territory Religious Department to disband the “snoop team”, saying it was tantamount to invasion of privacy.

However, PAS lauded the setting up of the snoop squad, saying that there should be more of such units formed in all states.

PAS Youth vice-chief Mazlan Aliman said the Cabinet should have a clearer picture first from the officers concerned and Dr Abdullah.

“A committee can be formed to monitor the activities of the volunteers and act on complaints of intrusion of privacy and to prevent abuse of power,” he said.

Opposition Leader Lim Kit Siang said the snoop squad would send out the wrong message.

“Why wasn't the decision to form the squad nipped in the bud at the ministry level without it having to reach the Cabinet?” he asked in a statement.

Several groups had raised concerns over moves to form units to spy on people on moral grounds, including that the unit members might abuse their power.

In 1995, several members from a now-defunct voluntary body called the Badan Amal Makruf Nahimunkar were arrested by Selangor police for extortion and impersonating government officers. They were considered a “moral police” group.

The Federal Government then ordered the group to be disbanded.


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