Court rules Sarawak Muslim convert has right to be Christian

Religious groups and supporters welcome the High Court's decision. The applicant was not present in court on Thursday.

Religious groups and supporters welcome the High Court’s decision. The applicant was not present in court on Thursday. 

KUCHING: A Sarawakian Bidayuh who was converted to Islam as a child has been granted a declaration that he is a Christian by the High Court here.

In her decision on a judicial review brought by Azmi Mohamad Azam @ Roneey, judge Datuk Yew Jen Kie said this was in accordance with the applicant’s constitutional right to freedom of religion as he was now an adult.

She also ordered the National Registration Department (NRD) to change the man’s name to Roneey Rebit and his religion from Islam to Christianity in his identity card.

In his application, Roneey had sought a declaration that he is a Christian, a letter of release from Islam from the Sarawak Islamic Religious Department and Sarawak Islamic Council, and orders compelling the NRD to change his name and religion in his identity card and its records.

The state religious authorities did not object to issuing the letter but the NRD had insisted on a letter of release and order from the Syariah Court.

Yew held that Roneey’s case was not one of jurisdiction but raised constitutional issues with regard to his right to religious freedom.

“He does not need a Syariah Court order to release him from Islam because freedom of religion is his constitutional right and only he can exercise that right,” she said on Thursday.

Yew noted that Roneey had been born into a Bidayuh Christian family in 1975 but his parents converted to Islam when he was eight.

“His conversion to the Muslim faith was not of his own volition but by virtue of his parents’ conversion when he was a minor.

“He is not challenging the validity of his conversion as a minor. But having become a major, he is free to exercise his right of freedom to religion and he chose Christianity,” she said, adding that at no point had Roneey professed Islam as his religion.

As such, she held that since he was now an adult, he was at liberty not only to exercise his right of religious freedom but to seek relief from the civil court.

“The (NRD) had not acted fairly towards the applicant by insisting on a letter of release and order from the Syariah Court,” she said.

Roneey was not present in court as he is working overseas.

His counsel Chua Kuan Ching welcomed the decision and hoped that the NRD would not appeal.

“In previous conversion cases involving minors, the courts did not go further to state what happens when the child reaches adulthood.

“So this is a different decision because the judge is saying that he has the right to religious freedom according to the Constitution,” she said.

The Association of Churches in Sarawak (ACS) also applauded the decision as one which safeguarded the fundamental right to freedom of religion.

“We are thankful to the Kuching High Court for coming to a fair and just decision in accordance with the law.

“We call upon the Federal Government to honour and give effect to the guarantee of religious freedom as provided in the Malaysia Agreement and uphold the constitutional rights and fundamental liberties accorded by the Federal Constitution to all citizens of Malaysia,” it said in a statement. – Star

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