The Federal Court has made the decision that the Sarawak Syariah Court has the power to hear apostasy cases. What is needed now is for the Jabatan Agama Islam Sarawak to come up with very clear guidelines and requirements for those wishing to leave Islam willingly to follow so that the letter of release can be issued. It must be clear that this is a legal issue rather than a notion of religious conflict and hatred. PH reveres the concept of respect and that Malaysians should leave in harmony despite of their diverse religious affiliations.
There has been no set procedure and each person has been told different things, leading to frustration and helplessness.
The government must also seriously consider amending the relevant state laws to provide for the requirements for the letter of release. Cases of those who want to leave Islam are mainly the converts who embrace Islam for marriage purposes when one of the spouse is Muslim. Over time such as unforseen divorce issues they opted to revert to their original faith.
Procedures must be clearly set out for the following categories:
1. Those who have evidential documents to prove they are no longer practising Muslims;
2. Those who have the intention of leaving the Islamic faith.
There must also be clear guidelines for lawyers who will be allowed to appear in the Syariah Court. We can foresee that many Syariah lawyers will be reluctant to take on apostasy cases for fear of being branded as ‘mermurtadkan Melayu’, and the authorities must consider allowing non-Muslim lawyers to appear in the Syariah Courts.
Freedom of religion, which means freedom to choose one’s religious belief had been agreed to under the Malaysia Agreement 1963 and that is why Sarawak has no official religion. In fact, in 2011 it was reported that our late Assistant Minister of Islamic Affairs Datuk Daud Abdul Rahman had said that ‘Sarawak practises religious freedom where each and every individual can choose the religion of his or her choice.’ [See ‘Sarawak won’t adopt anti-apostasy law’, The Sun Daily, Monday 13 November 2011].
In the recent hearing in the Federal Court, Baru Bian was merely helping the 4 persons in his capacity as an advocate to exercise their rights to choose their own religion. From the facts of the cases, it is clear that he had nothing to do with their decisions to leave the Islamic faith and those who accuse him of having a ‘Christian agenda’ are making up lies for their own purposes. We condemn those who are trying to politicise Baru’s role in these cases by accusing Pakatan Harapan of not respecting the Islamic religion. Our manifesto clearly affirms our position on Islam.
In the meantime, clear Standard Operating Procedures are urgently needed so that converts out of Islam are clear on what needs to be done.
Chong Chieng Jen, Chairman PH Sarawak
Fidzuan Zaidi, Chairman, AMANAH Sarawak
Baru Bian, Chairman, PKR Sarawak