Activist hopes Federal Court will uphold freedom of religion

Peter at the Federal Court in Kuching today.

KUCHING, Feb 26: Human rights activist Peter John Jaban hopes that the Federal Court will 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 held a watching brief representing Sarawak For Sarawakians (S4S) and Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (SADIA)at the Federal Court today which was in session over the appeal of four Sarawakians — Syarifah Nooraffyzza Wan Hosen, Tiong Choo Ting, Salina Jau and Jenny Peter — who are battling to have their conversions out of Islam legally recognised.

“We would like to thank the late chief minister Pehin Seri Adenan Satem 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 today 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 today 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,” he said.

Citing other examples, Peter said there are many other cases of similar magnitude and backgrounds.

“In particular, are the cases of Nur Hidayatul’Asyiqin @ Tracy Umar, and Nurul Annisha Abdullah, born Cecilia Nyalin who has waited 21 years for a closure to her predicament. And she is still waiting. Cecilia is treated like a ball passed from one department to another, from Mahkamah Syariah to Jabatan Pendaftaran Negara (JPN) then to Jabatan Agama Islam Sarawak (JAIS) and then back again.”

He added: “Islam is a good and kind 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,” Peter said.

Although numerous cases of apostasy have been resolved collectively by JPN Sarawak and JAIS following the Rooney 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.

On Jan 29, 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, is not to have requirements for conversion upon 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 be a separation of politics and religion so that we Sarawakians 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 said.

“I also recommend that the process of ‘murtad’ be simplified for natives of Sarawak seeking to return to their traditional birth culture. Most of the cases I find were of the nature where these converts had never practised Islam and are failing to follow the five pillars of the faith in faith, prayer, charity, fasting and the Hajj. They continue to tarnish the good name of Islam with these types of behaviour and lifestyle.

“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,” he said, adding that there’s no point in keeping rotten eggs as they would just spoil the whole batch of eggs in the same basket. — DayakDaily