The Terengganu state government in Malaysia is forging ahead with plans to implement the Islamic criminal law known as hudud. The national government refuses to back the draconian legal system.

The Terengganu state government is hiring judges for its new Islamic courts. The state assembly recently passed a bill enacting hudud law, making it the second state in Malaysia to do so.

Malaysia's federal government, however, has barred state police from enforcing hudud law. The state government now intends to set up its own policing team to nab offenders.

Terengganu's state assembly is dominated by the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, or PAS. The party wants to extend strict Islamic laws throughout the multi-ethnic country.

Hudud law, known as sharia law in some places, imposes strict punishments, such as amputating the limbs of thieves. Married Muslims guilty of adultery will be stoned to death while unmarried offenders face 100 strokes of the whip and a year's imprisonment.

If a woman is raped, she must produce four male eyewitnesses of good standing, or she can be found guilty of having illicit sex. Women's groups argue hudud law is unfair to them. Ivy Josiah, executive director of the Women's Aid Organization in Kuala Lumpur, said the legal system threatens civil liberties.

"PAS Terengganu leaders, they really do believe that this is the vision they have for Malaysia and for a Muslim Malaysia, if not a Muslim world, so you have a bill like a sleeping cobra waiting to be implemented," she said.

Many Malaysians fear implementing the law will limit religious freedoms and even frighten away those who might want to convert to Islam. "Any Malaysian who enters the religion and embraces the religion and then decides this religion is not for me, can be crucified and then executed. And in all the various public seminars, people are being told that if you resist hudud, you are going against Islam," she said.

Actually implementing the law in Terengganu may be difficult. Kelantan state, which PAS also controls, passed the hudud law in 1993, but a court challenge has kept it from being implemented.

Malaysia is about 60% Muslim. Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, a moderate Muslim, is intent on blocking the introduction of strict Islamic practices for fear of polarizing the population and scaring away foreign investors.