Three women are being investigated by the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (JAIS) for speaking at a forum called 'Malay Women and De-hijabbing' on 13 April
Activist and writer Maryam Lee, legal professional and social media commentator Dian Sofia, and journalist and women's rights activist Mohani Niza were panellists in a forum in conjunction with the launch of Maryam's book, 'Unveiling Choice'.
The women shared their experiences as ex-hijabis living in Malaysia.
The women said in a joint statement that they are willing to cooperate with authorities, but maintain that they did not break any laws by speaking at the forum
They explained that the three-hour discussion was an intellectual discourse based on the women's lived realities, looking at the phenomenon from sociological and historical perspectives, alongside discussions on the socio-political realities of Malaysian girls and women today.
"We condemn this unnecessary investigation as abuse of power to harass and intimidate women activists who are speaking up on issues affecting women, and organisers for intellectual discussions that do not serve the status quo," they said in the statement.
"We implore the public and the authorities to explore the subject at hand with rational thinking and dialogue, as we believe in healthy discourse and the defence of democratic spaces for all minorities in Malaysia," it read.
The trio said they were only notified of the JAIS investigation on Monday, 15 April, via a statement by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Dr Mujahid Yusof Rawa, who is in charge of religious affairs
The investigation was called for by Mujahid, who said that he viewed the matter seriously in a Facebook post.
On 16 April, JAIS officers visited Gerakbudaya, the forum's venue and owner of the publishing house that published Maryam's book, to obtain copies of the book and interview the store's representatives.
The book details Maryam's "long process of dehijabbing".
According to a preface to the book, the author had "neither the need nor the intention to make a case against the hijab".
Netizens took to social media to defend the right of Muslim women in Malaysia to choose whether to don the hijab or not
"It does not mean those who attended the forum would lose their faith," Lawyers for Liberty executive director Latheefa Koya wrote in a Facebook post.
"Do not reflect Muslims to be so fragile and obsessed over physique, hair, and sex," she added.