Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews) – “in the current climate in Malaysia is seems almost impossible to exercise freedom of will”. These were the first words spoken by Lina Joy, following yesterdays Federal Court sentence which refused to recognise hr conversion from Islam to Christianity. “I am devastated – she confessed to The Star newspaper – by the fact that the countries highest court is not able to guarantee a simple fundamental human right to its citizens: that of the freedom to choose their own faith and the person they want to marry”.
All of the principal newspapers are carrying the news of the sentence on their front pages today. The case has inflamed public opinion and has thrown the issue of religious freedom in pluralistic Malaysia into discussion. For years now, Lina Joy of Malay ethnic origins has been asking that the word “Islam” be removed from her identity cards (which always state the carriers religious category) first appealing to the local registrar and then to the appeals Court. Only in this way would she be free to marry her fiancé, an Indian Christian. Both of these cases were quashed by the Federal Court which yesterday referred her case to the Islamic courts. But sharia punishes apostates with forced “rehabilitation”, prison and heavy fines. The woman will probably be forced to emigrate in order to be able to live a normal life.
Msgr. Paul Tan Chee Ing, SJ, Chairman of the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) – at the forefront of steps to prevent the spreading of Islamic law and its’ application on non Muslims – expressed his frustration to AsiaNews: “To deny this basic human right of a person is to choose his/her religion is to usurp the power of God and the right of the person concerned. It is, therefore, inhuman and uncivilized”. Teresa Kok Suh Sim, catholic parliamentary of Chinese origins and member of the Democratic Action Party (DAP), has invited the government to “to take immediate measures to amend the Federal Constitution to make it beyond any misinterpretation that the civil court is superior over the Syariah court in all matters”. Similar positions were expressed by official statements from the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism (MCCBCHS) and Council of Churches in Malaysia (CCM).
Not only the Christians but all of the religious minorities are expressing grave concern in the aftermath of yesterday’s decision. While guaranteeing full religious freedom, Kuala Lumpur has established that all questions regarding the faith of the Malay be judged by the Islamic courts rather than civil courts. In fact to conflicting law systems exist in the country: the Constitution guarantees freedom of religion while Islamic law prohibits conversion of Muslims. Because of this situation, there are those who claim that this sentence paradoxically “This is not only denying Muslims of their right to choice of religion, but also their right to freely embrace any new faith”.