Jurisdiction To Hear Apostasy Cases In Sarawak Lies With Syariah Court

The crowd at the Kuching Court who came to listen to the verdict by the Federal Court. – Photo courtesy of a Reader

KUCHING: The syariah court in Sarawak has jurisdiction to hear apostasy cases.

This follows a Federal Court ruling that dismissed an appeal by four persons in Sarawak to have their apostasy cases heard in the civil court.

Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin, the Court of Appeal president who chaired a five-member panel of judges unanimously ruled that the Sarawak syariah court has jurisdiction to hear apostasy cases.

He was quoted saying that although the Sarawak Syariah Court Ordinance had no provisions on conversion, there were provisions in the Majlis Islam Sarawak Ordinance that could be used by the Syariah Court to hear apostasy cases.

A mini protest outside the court.

Other members of the panel were Chief Judge of Malaya Justice Ahmad Maarop and Justices Hasan Lah, Jeffrey Tan and Ramly Ali, according to a report in the Star online.

The appellants comprised Muslim-born Syarifah Nooraffyza Wan Hosen, who left Islam voluntarily to embrace Christianity, and Muslim converts Mohd Syafiq Abdullah @ Tiong Choo Ting, Jenny Peter @ Nur Muzdhalifah Abdullah and Salina Jau Abdullah who returned to Christianity after divorcing or the death of their spouses.

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

In 2015, the appellants applied unsuccessfully to the High Court for a declaration that they are Christians and for orders seeking letters of release from Islam and for the religion in their identity cards to be changed to Christianity.

The High Court refused leave to hear their cases on the grounds that the civil court had no jurisdiction to hear apostasy cases.

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

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