While we are relieved that the Penang Syariah Court has “permitted” Tan Ean Huang who formally converted to Islam in 1988 to “renounce” Islam and practice Buddhism, we have many concerns with this process.
For two years Tan Ean Huang faced many obstacles in asserting her inherent right to practice her own faith as guaranteed by Article 11 of the Federal Constitution. Article 11 grants every person the freedom to practice and profess the religion of his/her choice as does the Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
We agree with the call by civil society that any person wanting to profess and practice his or her religion should not have to face administrative hurdles, enforced counselling and the need to wait for years before his or her faith is officially recognized. Instead, people like Tan Ean Huang should be able to utilise a simple registration process administered by the National Registration Department to get official recognition of their professed religion.
It has been pointed out that not all Syariah State enactments allow a person to leave Islam. Some seem to permit it, some seem to criminalize it and some seem to be silent about it. As such, there are different consequences if a person wishes to convert out of Islam. There are also those who have never professed or practised Islam, but are officially considered as “Muslim”, usually because their parents may have converted in name but continued to raise them in their original non-Muslim faith.
Freedom of religion is a fundamental right. It is a private matter for an individual. The state should not interfere in this unless a religious practice infringes on the rights and liberties of others. We believe that once a person has professed that he/she is no longer a Muslim; the Government should respect that person’s wishes. Islamic laws should not thereafter be applied to that person, nor should the Syariah Court have any jurisdiction over that person. Adequate laws ought to be enacted to ensure that religious conversion does not permit a person to evade outstanding obligations to his or her family members, be they Muslim or people of other faiths.
Proposals for such laws have been submitted by JAG (Joint Action Group for Gender Equality), the Bar Council, the MCCBCHST and other members of civil society.
We therefore strongly urge the government and the judiciary to implement immediately the proposals by civil society to uphold freedom of religion for all Malaysians.
1. All Women’s Action Society (AWAM)
2. Bar Council Malaysia
3. Catholic Lawyers Society (CLS)
4. Council of Churches
5. Malaysian Civil Liberties Society,
Protem Committee (MCLS)
6. National Human Rights Society (HAKAM)
7. Sisters In Islam (SIS)
8. Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)
9. Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
13 May 2008
Article 11 is a coalition of 10 Malaysian NGOs with its secretariat being Women’s Aid Organisation and Sisters in Islam. Members of Article 11 are All Women’s Action Society (AWAM); Bar Council Malaysia; Catholic Lawyers Society (CLS); Malaysian Civil Liberties Society, Protem Committee (MCLS); Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST); National Human Rights Society (HAKAM), Sisters In Islam (SIS); Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM); Vivekananda Youth Movement, Seremban; Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO).