Safre pro-tem chief wants Syariah Court to hear reconversion cases

Handout photo of Mark receiving orders from the Syariah Court in Selangor last year.

Handout photo of Mark receiving orders from the Syariah Court in Selangor last year.

KUCHING: A motion to empower the state’s Syariah Court to hear reconversion cases of Muslim converts should be tabled at the State Legislative Assembly, said Sarawak Freedom of Religion (Safre) pro-tem president Mark Murau Sumon.

Calling on members of the assembly to support the bill, he said even the High Court has no power to hear such cases and every time such case is brought to the High Court, it will be passed to the Syariah Court.

As an example, he said the Syariah Court in Selangor, in particular, could hear such cases.

“So all the state assemblypersons have to do is to copy the relevant section into the current Syariah Court Ordinance to empower it to hear reconversion cases otherwise applicants for reconversion would be having dilemma over their status on religion.

“Their predicament does not stop there because even the National Registration Department (NRD) requires release letter from the Syariah Court in order to change status of religion in their personal documents, particularly MyKad,” he pointed out.

Echoing a recent statement by Ba Kelalan assemblyman Baru Bian on the same matter, Mark urged the state government to look into the lacuna (gap) in the law over the Jurisdiction of Syariah Court on Muslim converts to leave Islam.

“So far most of these cases were brought to the Civil Courts when the applicants wished to convert out of Islam but sadly we can see even the High Court refused to hear their applications,” he said.

“We have studied several cases. There have been many cases of converts battling with the NRD when they tried to change and amend their religious status in the identity card even though they come out with relevant supporting documents such as Statutory Declaration to declare they are no longer practising Muslims,” he added.

The only reply they would get from the NRD is ‘Permohonan Tidak Diluluskan’ (Your application is not approved) and ‘Mesti ada Arahan dari Mahkamah Syariah’ (Application must be attached with order from the Syariah Court), he stressed.

“We did assist them by going through all the processes as required by the Sarawak Islamic Religious Department (Jais) including attending all the counselling sessions before they take the next step,” he lamented.

Mark claimed that Jais could not give them release letters even after they had completed all the processes.

“I always believe that this case is all about Article 11 (of the Federal Constitution) Freedom of Religion, whereby every person has the right to profess and practise his or her religion,” he pointed out.

“I agree with YB Baru Bian when he commented in The Borneo Post Feb 11 edition that the ‘Law is silent on Muslim converts wishing to leave Islam’. There must be clear provision in the ordinance itself.

“My stand on the matter is very clear but the Sarawak Government until today has not stated its position firmly,” he added.

Mark claimed that he had assisted three Sarawakians to apply for reconversion in Selangor and they were successful.

He said in Selangor, the Syariah High Court under Section 61 (3) (b) (x) of the Administration of the Religion of Islam (State of Selangor) Enactment 2033 stated that a statutory declaration that a person is no longer a Muslim should be allowed, which was also applied in the Syariah Court of Federal Territories.

“Despite the problems we managed to continue and pursue their cases although they are from the low-income group who can’t afford to get their own legal counsel. It took almost a year for them to be released.”

On Safre, Mark pointed out that the association had submitted its application for registration to the Registrar of Societies but was yet to receive approval.

He said most Safre members are those who converted out of Islam and had made statutory declaration that they are no more practising Muslims.