Sarawak Shariah Court can hear apostasy cases, rules apex court

Mahkamah-KcuhingKUCHING: The Federal Court today ruled that there are provisions in the Majlis Islam Sarawak Ordinance pertaining to the powers of the Sarawak Shariah Court on matters of apostasy.

Court of Appeal president Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin said the court unanimously reached the decision to dismiss an appeal by four Sarawakians for the civil court to hear their apostasy cases, deciding that it had no merit.

He said the court dismissed the appeal with no order as to cost, and decided that the issue raised was already settled in other court cases.

He said even though there were no provisions on apostasy, there were provisions on matters of conversion to Islam, which implied that the Sarawak Shariah Court had jurisdiction over apostasy cases.

Zulkefli said Sections 68 and 69 in the Majlis Islam Sarawak Ordinance could be used by the Sarawak Shariah Court to hear apostasy cases.

The five-man Federal Court bench comprised Zulkefli, Chief Judge of Malaya Justice Ahmad Maarop and Justices Hasan Lah, Jeffrey Tan and Ramly Ali.

Yesterday, the court heard submissions from lawyers on whether the Sarawak Shariah Court possessed such powers when it was not expressly stated in the Shariah Court Ordinance 2001.

The question was raised by the four Sarawakians seeking a court order to nullify their status as Muslims, and compel the National Registration Department to recognise them as Christians.

Syarifah Nooraffyzza Wan Hosen left Islam voluntarily and embraced Christianity, while Tiong Choo Ting, a Chinese-Bidayuh Christian who converted to Islam to marry a Muslim woman, later decided to return to Christianity after the death of his wife.

The other two are Salina Jau, a Kayan/Kenyah Christian who converted to Islam to marry a Malay-Muslim man but decided to return to Christianity after her divorce, and Jenny Peter, a Melanau Christian who converted to Islam to marry a Muslim but also decided to return to Christianity after her divorce.

The four jointly sought the Federal Court’s interpretation of the Sarawak Shariah Court Ordinance 2001, and named the Sarawak State Islamic Department director, the Sarawak Islamic Council, the National Registration Department director-general and the state government as respondents.

A few days earlier, their counsel Baru Bian was reported as saying that should it be affirmed that the Sarawak Shariah Court had no such powers, the matter would be reverted back to the High Court, but if the Federal Court ruled differently then the appeal would be dismissed.

The appellants would then have to go back to the Shariah Court to make their application to renounce Islam.