PETRA JAYA: The Federal Court here today dismissed the appeal of four Sarawakian apostates to be officially declared Christians by the civil courts.
The decision – made by a five-member panel, led by Tan Sri Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin, Tan Sri Ahmad Maarop, Tan Sri Hasan Lah, Tan Sri Ramly Ali and Tan Sri Jeffrey Tan – ruled that there are provisions in the Majlis Agama Islam Sarawak (MAIS) Ordinance which empower the state Syariah Court to deal with the issue of apostasy.
Lawyer of the four appellants, Joshua Baru said the appeal was dismissed after the judges made a decision unanimously.
“The judges ruled that although the state Syariah Court does not have jurisdiction on conversion out of Islam, there are provisions in MAIS ordinance, which can be implied.
"As such, it empowers the state Syariah court to hear application of such cases,” he told the reporters at the Kuching Court Complex here.
“Hence, the next course of action would depend on the clients. If they want to proceed with their application to renounce their Muslim status, they need a Syariah lawyer and bring it to Syariah Court,” he added.
The four appellants are seeking for a declaration that they are Christians and an order to compel the Sarawak Islamic authorities to issue a letter of release from Islam and an order to compel the National Registration Department (NRD) to drop the word “Islam” from their identity cards as well as to amend their religious particulars at the national registry to Christianity.
Three of them - Mohd Syafiq Abdullah @ Tiong Choo Ting, Jenny Peter @ Nur Muzdhalifah Abdullah, and Salina Abdullah - had converted to Islam for the purpose of marriage.
However, Nur Muzdhalifah and Salina returned to Christianity following their divorces in 2006 and 2010, respectively.
Mohd Syafiq also returned to Christianity after his wife died in 2007.
Meanwhile, the fourth case involved Syarifah Nooraffyzza Wan Hose, a born-Muslim, who left the Islam and embraced Christianity in 2009.
In 2015, the High Court refused leave to hear the cases on the grounds that the civil court had no jurisdiction on apostasy cases.
They appealed to the Federal Court on the matter of jurisdiction after the Court of Appeal dismissed their cases in 2016.
The respondents were the Sarawak Islamic Religious Department director, the National Registration Department director-general, the Sarawak Islamic Council, and the Sarawak government.