Let Them Go, Activist Says Of Those Wanting To Bail Out From Religion

A group of people protest outside the court in Kuching on Monday.

By BILL JUGAH
KUCHING: Peter John Jaban, a notable human rights activist in Sarawak, is hoping that the Federal Court will properly recognise the Freedom of Religion accorded to citizens of Sarawak as part of the Malaysia Agreement 1963 and as part of international conventions on human rights.

Peter is representing S4S and SADIA on a watching brief at the Federal Court in Petra Jaya here in the appeal of four persons who wish to have their conversion out of Islam legally recognised.

He said: “We would like to thank the late Adenan Satem (Chief Minister of Sarawak) for if it were not for his intervention in a case, many other cases of conversions would be left unresolved.

“The cases brought to court Monday are pivotal and will set a precedent to the wheels of justice and freedom of religion long overdue in practice in our beloved country.

“The cases are of individuals who wish to leave Islam on their own accord, on their own free will and on their own conscience without any coercion from any party aside from their own; they should be given this freedom.”

Bishops and Elders of the various Christian denominations in Sarawak seen outside the court. Peter John is seen at left.

There are many other cases of similar magnitude and backgrounds. In particular, are the cases of Nur Hidayatul’Asyiqin @ Tracy anak Umar, and Nurul Annisha binti Abdullah, born Cecilia anak Nyalin who has waited 21 years for a closure to her predicament.

“And she is still waiting,” said Peter.

“Cecilia is treated like a ball passed from one department to another; from the Mahkamah Syariah to Jabatan Pendaftaran Negara then to Jabatan Agama Islam Sarawak and then back again.”

Peter added, “Islam is a good religion. However, these people that are left in limbo over the status of their religion are tarnishing the good name of Islam. Why?

“Because they do not follow the teachings of Islam and since they are still lawfully considered Muslims, they are portraying a way of life and behaviors deemed sinful in the eyes of Islam. These are people who were not born into Islam or raised in the proper practice of the faith.

“They simply wish to return to life in their original communities. That is why they need to be released from a religious status that does not befit their chosen way of life and belief.”

Although numerous cases of apostasy have been resolved collectively by JPN Sarawak and Jabatan Agama Islam Sarawak following the Rooney anak Rebit case in 2016, there are countless of cases still pending. However, there may be light at the end of the tunnel for those facing this long-standing predicament.

Cecelia Nyalin is in red.

On 29th January 2018, the Federal Court decreed that the civil courts have jurisdiction to hear cases when aggrieved parties question conversion to Islam. This landmark ruling is in accordance to and in honour of Article 11 of the Federal Constitution and the Malaysia Agreement 1963 where freedom of religion is guaranteed.

While this development is encouraging, Peter has a few recommendations.

Among them, there should be no requirements for conversion on marriage, with religious conversion and upbringing of children being a matter of personal choice at family level as practised in other Middle East countries, Bosnia and neighbouring Indonesia, being the largest Muslim country in the world.

“We do not want our beloved country to be embroiled in a conflict arising from religion. In a multi-cultural country like Malaysia, and particularly in Sarawak where the religious mix is more marked, there must a be a separation of politics and religion so that we can live in harmony with each other like our forefathers before the formation of Malaysia.

“Sarawak should avoid past examples of countries torn apart from abuse of religion in politics in order to remain as a secular state as stipulated in Malaysia Agreement 1963 in our quest to make Sarawak a better home to live in,” Peter pointed out.

“I also recommend that the process of ‘murtad’ be simplified for natives of Sarawak seeking to return to their traditional birth culture.

“Therefore, I urge that a resolution is reached to solve this sensitive problem. I don’t believe that our government should be obsessed with maintaining the quantity of its Muslims citizens in a country but should be instead focusing on the quality of its citizens,” Peter added.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Federal Court will decide Tuesday on whether the Sarawak Syariah Court has jurisdiction over apostasy matters.