‘Guarantee of religious freedom must be restored to its former position’

Ornate church interior. — DayakDaily.com file pic. // Photo: Pixabay

KUCHING, March 12: The Association of Churches in Sarawak (ACS) today cautioned that it would be meaningless for Sarawak and Sabah to have their rights restored if the two regions lose sight of the guarantee of religious freedom for their people.

In a press statement, ACS stated that it welcomed the decision of the Federal Cabinet to restore the position of Sabah and Sarawak as equal partners with Peninsular Malaysia under the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63).

“However, it would be meaningless if religious freedom is not restored to the position prior to the formation of Malaysia as guaranteed by the IGC Report, MA63 and enshrined in the Federal Constitution.

“While it is very important to restore and honour the rights of Sabah and Sarawak to oil and gas, territorial sea, autonomy over education, healthcare, taxation and revenue under the IGC (Inter-Governmental Committee) Report and MA63, we must not lose sight that the guarantee of religious freedom is the most fundamental of all the rights and liberties under MA63 and must be restored to its former position.

“Hence, ACS calls upon the federal and state governments to restore religious freedom to the position in 1963 when Malaysia was formed in line with the Cobbold Commission Report, IGC Report, MA63 and the Federal Constitution.”

Meanwhile, ACS expressed its disappointment that while there were actions taken against those insulting Islam, there was none taken against those who insulted other religions.

Referring to the recent case of 22-year-old Alister Cogia, who is reportedly suffering from a mental illness but has been sentenced to 10 years’ jail and fined RM50,000 for insulting Islam and Prophet Muhammad, ACS opined that “the object of the sentence should be to educate the young, first-time offender with regards to his health condition, age and guilty plea”.

It added that ACS appreciated and supported efforts made by the federal and state governments to preserve peace, unity and harmony among the people of Malaysia and that ACS does not approve or condone any acts or remarks that insult Islam or other religions.

“ACS regrets to note that those who recently made offensive remarks that insult non-Muslims or their religions have not faced charges under the law.”

It added that before Alister’s case, there were reports in social and other media that some senior politicians had uttered offensive and insulting remarks against non-Muslims.

“It was also reported that the federal government would set up a unit to monitor and take action against those who post remarks on materials that insult Islam on social or any media. However, there was no mention of any monitoring and taking action against those who insult other religions,” lamented ACS.

ACS pointed out that before Malaysia was formed, the people of Sabah and Sarawak were assured by the Cobbold Commission and the Inter-Governmental Committee in 1962 that despite Islam being the official religion of the new Federation of Malaysia, the country would remain secular and that religious freedom would be guaranteed to all citizens.

“There is no state religion in Sarawak,” said ACS.

In the case of Malaya, the Reid Commission agreed in 1956 that the new Federation of Malaya would be secular and the people can profess and practise their own religions and, subject to state laws, to propagate their religions.

When Malaysia was formed in 1963, the leaders and citizens respected the religions and cultures of Malaysia’s multicultural society in the true spirit of the IGC report, MA63 and the Federal Constitution, said ACS.

In a speech before the Legislative Council in 1957, the country’s founding leader, Tunku Abdul Rahman, stated: “I would like to make it clear that this country is not an Islamic State as it is generally understood. We merely provided that Islam shall be the official religion of the state.” — DayakDaily