COLOMBO: Four Muslim Members of Parliament, including a cabinet Minister, shouted down Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP M.A.Sumanthiran, when he mentioned the term “Shariah” while speaking in parliament on Friday on a Saudi Arabian court’s order to “stone to death” a Lankan women for committing adultery.
The 43 year old Lankan woman, a mother of three, was to be stoned to death in Riyadh on Friday but the sentence was not carried out because the lady had appealed against the order with the assistance of the Lankan government.
Sumanthiran, also a leading Supreme Court lawyer, said that laws regarding the mode of punishment in various countries should be looked at afresh, from the human rights angle. He mentioned stoning in Saudi Arabia, flogging in Singapore and the use of the electric chair in some states in the USA as examples of practices which need to be reviewed. He further said that countries cannot prevent people from across the world questioning laws which violate human rights and cannot use religion to stall intervention. He pointed out there has been international intervention in Sri Lanka to restore human rights in the island and Lanka has accepted it.
Sumanthiran said that stoning was a practice mentioned in the Old Testament but the practice was discontinued with the advent of Christianity. He recalled that when people wanted to stone a prostitute to death, Jesus Christ said: "He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” No one did.
When the Tamil MP proceeded to ask if the Shariah law sanctions stoning to death, S.M.Marikkar, Rishad Bathiyudeen and two other Muslim MPs, shouted him down. Bathiyudeen insisted that Sumanthiran has no right to talk of Shariah law. Islam and Shariah law should not be dragged in when the entire House is engaged in saving the maid in question, Bathiyudeen argued. Sumanthiran’s contention that he had the right to speak on any religion so long as he is not offensive was rejected.
Speaker Karu Jayasuriya’s pleas to the Muslim MPs to let Sumanthiran complete his speech fell on deaf ears. Even Minister Lakshman Kiriella’s assurance that anything hurtful to Islam could be expunged, failed to pacify the four Muslim MPs.
A defensive Sumanthiran said that he is not attacking Islam and that he is an avowed friend of the Muslims. In fact, only recently, he had incurred fellow Tamils’ wrath when he described the en masse expulsion of Muslims from North Lanka by the LTTE in 1990 as “ethnic cleansing.”
Later, speaking to Express Sumanthiran said that Bathiyudeen agreed that he is a friend of the Muslims but insisted that he could not speak on the Shariah.
However, the Muslim MP listened quietly when the Deputy Minister of Power, Ajith Perera, urged the government to ban unskilled Lankan women from seeking employment in countries like Saudi Arabia.
Ban Being Mulled
Meanwhile, Sunday Virakesari quoted the Minister of Foreign Employment, Thalatka Athukorale, as saying that President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe are discussing the possibility of putting a ban on Lankan women going to Saudi Arabia as maids.
In January 2003, another Lankan, 24 year old Rizana Nafeek, was beheaded in Saudi Arabia for the alleged murder of a baby. Rizana’s argument that a confession was forced on her, was not accepted by the court. An appeal for clemency made to the Saudi King by no less a person than the then Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa was ignored.