10 NOVEMBER 2016
We are extremely disappointed with the written judgment of the Court of Appeal dated 1 November 2016 dismissing the appeals of 3 appellants who wish to leave the religion of Islam. It has been a long and hard journey, and it is truly a shame that for them, the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion is still but an illusory ideal that is out of reach.
The Court had suggested that the appellants could turn to the State Legislature for redress. It seems to us that this is indeed the way to solve this problem and to make it easier for other applicants in the future. The crux of the matter is the question of jurisdiction. The Sarawak Syariah Court had admitted in writing that it has no jurisdiction over matters of apostasy. However the Court of Appeal insists that it does. It cannot be left for the civil court to interpret jurisdiction ‘by implication’ when the Syariah Court itself has disclaimed jurisdiction. This leaves the applicants in a catch-22 situation through no fault of their own.
Syariah Courts in Malaysia are creatures of statute, deriving their powers from the respective state Syariah laws. We propose that the Sarawak Syariah Court Ordinance 2001 be amended to make clear provision that when a person has declared by a statutory declaration or any other legal method that he/she has converted out of Islam, the Syariah Court should have no jurisdiction over that person, the jurisdiction resting with the Civil Court pursuant to section 25(2) of the Courts of Judicature Act 1964. This is consistent with the guarantee of freedom of religion under Article 11 of the Federal Constitution. I urge the Chief Minister to seriously consider this amendment, being a strong advocate for religious freedom in Sarawak.
On a positive development, we are glad that Rooney Rebit had been issued a new IC without Islam on it, as he had wanted. There is no difference in the legal issue between Rooney and our appeal cases here. All had declared they were no more practising Muslims. Fortunately for Rooney, his case was politically resolved as an election issue.
Our freedom to choose our religion should be really free, and not subjected to arguments and protests and objections by other parties. It is a deeply personal matter, and the people concerned should not have to suffer this frustrating and lengthy administrative and legal battle to claim this right. This is the very thing that many of our people were worried about when considering joining Malaya to form Malaysia over 50 years ago - our religious freedom being disrupted and curtailed. I hope the Chief Minister will take the opportunity in the upcoming DUN sitting to propose the amendment as a solution for those who wish to exercise their freedom to leave Islam.
Chairman, KEADILAN Sarawak / ADUN N81 Ba’ Kelalan