Sarawak CM reminded about promise to amend Shariah laws on apostasy

Sulok Tawie
Muslims perform Friday prayers at a mosque in Sepang August 2, 2013. — Reuters pic

KUCHING, Aug 27 — Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS Baru) today reminded Chief Minister Datuk Abang Johari Openg about the state government’s plans to amend the Sarawak Syariah Court Ordinance 2001 to deal with issues involving converts who wish to leave Islam and return to their original religions.

Its president Cobbold John Lusoi said the chief minister had promised six months ago that he would find solutions to deal with apostasy cases, including amendments to the Ordinance.

He hoped that the state government had found solutions and are now ready to table a Bill to amend the Ordinance in the sitting of the Sarawak State Legislative Assembly in November.

“I hope that the chief minister remembers his promise, that he would find solutions to the problems faced by Muslim converts within six months.

“One way or another, the state government has to make decisions, as it is not fair to leave apostasy cases hanging,” he said.

In March this year, Abang Johari said the amendments would include a standard operating procedure (SOP) of what is needed to be done when a convert decides to leave Islam.

He made the comments after a ruling by the Federal Court on February 27 that only the state Shariah Court, and not the civil court, had jurisdiction over apostasy cases after four Sarawakians applied to leave Islam.

The apex court had dismissed their appeals to have their apostasy cases heard in the civil court.

A five-member panel of judges chaired by Court of Appeal president Tan Sri Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin unanimously ruled that the Shariah Court in Sarawak had jurisdiction to hear apostasy cases.

Zulkefli said although the Ordinance had no provisions on conversion, there were provisions in the Majlis Islam Sarawak Ordinance that could be used by the Shariah Court to hear apostasy cases.

Mohd Syafiq Abdullah @ Tiong Choo Ting, Jenny Peter @ Nur Muzdhalifah Abdullah and Salina Jau Abdullah returned to Christianity after divorcing or the death of their spouses.

The fourth individual, Islam-born Syarifah Nooraffyza Wan Hosen, converted to Christianity after marrying a Christian.

They had named the directors of the Sarawak Islamic Department, Sarawak Islamic Council, director-general of the National Registration Department (NRD) and state government as respondents.

The Shariah Court, in 2015, had written to the four stating that the court could not give them a letter of release from Islam as required by the NRD due to the matter of jurisdiction.

The same year, they applied to the High Court for a declaration that they were Christians, for orders seeking letters of release from Islam and for the religion in their identity cards to be changed but it was unsuccessful.

Their appeals to the Court of Appeal were also dismissed in 2016, after which they appealed to the Federal Court on the question of jurisdiction.

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