05/30/2007, 00.00
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Civil courts abdicate in favour of Sharia courts at the expense of Malaysia’s Christians

The Christian Federation of Malaysia says it is “disturbed” by the decision of Malaysia’s Federal Court not to recognise Lina Joy’s conversion to Christianity and worried by the creeping imposition of Islamic law on non-Muslim citizens. It calls on the government to reassert the supremacy of civil courts so that everyone can exercise true religious freedom.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews) – The Christian community of Malaysia is “disturbed” by the decision of the country’s Federal Court in the Lina Joy’s case and calls on the authorities to reassert the supremacy of the constitution against the claims of Islamic law.

The Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM), a leader in the fight against the creeping imposition of Sharia in the country, has in fact released a statement expressing such concerns after the Federal Court, the country’s highest civilian court, ruled today that Lina Joy’s request to have ‘Islam’ removed from her identity papers should instead be decided by an Islamic court.

The 42-year-old woman converted to Christianity ten years ago and must have her change of religion recognised under the law if she wants to elope with her Christian fiancé, a Malaysian of Indian origin.

In denying her right to change, the court “confirmed the National Registration Department’s right to insist on a certificate from the Sharia Court that she has apostatised, prior to registering her conversion in the identity card.”

However, in Malaysia Sharia courts can impose prison terms or heavy fines on anyone converting from one religion to another. In practice, since the country is governed by two legal systems, an Islamic system based on Sharia and a secular one based on the constitution, people are frequently forced into litigation to determine which one should prevail.

According to the CFM, “the insistence by the National Registration Department on such a certificate being produced has curtailed the fundamental right of an individual to profess and express his or her religion as provided for in Article 11” of the constitution.

Furthermore, the Federation “noted with much concern that this decision reflects a growing trend of decisions in the courts where civil courts are abdicating their responsibility of providing legal redress to individuals who only seek to profess and live their religion according to their conscience.”

In view of the situation in its statement, signed by Mgr Paul Tan Chee Ing, SJ, the CFM calls on the government to “revisit the relevant legislation and reinstate the jurisdiction of the civil courts so that equal protection of the right to choose and express one’s religion” can be enforced.

Last but not least, the CFM reiterates its commitment to “co-operate with the government and all Malaysians to uphold the multiracial, multicultural and multi-religious character of our nation”.

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