KUALA LUMPUR: A DAP parliamentarian today urged Malaysia to sign and ratify the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, which will allow for religious freedom in the country.
P Kasthuriraani (PH-Batu Kawan) said Malaysia needed to uphold the principles of human rights contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in which Article 18 states that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
This includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
“Today, Malaysia is on Tier Two of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom report. A few recommendations have been made to ensure the freedom to practise one’s religions and beliefs will continue to grow, respected and follows the rule of law.
“On the issue of freedom of religion and beliefs, I wish to raise two issues which are yet unresolved, which are the usage of the Kalimah Allah and the ownership of religious materials.
“Even though these are sensitive issues, they need to be addressed. As the minister said, we need to start from home. If reforms to these cannot be done at home, how do we promote, or be defenders or promoters of human rights in other countries?” she questioned in her debate on the motion tabled by Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah in the Dewan Rakyat today.
Kasthuriraani said USCIRF had also made recommendations for the abolition of the Sedition Act, which has been used as a weapon to intimidate Malaysians who wish to ask on issues deemed sensitive, such as the freedom of religion and beliefs.
“Another recommendation is the need to stop the arrests of individuals who practise Shia, Ahmadiyah and Baha’i (beliefs), in accordance with Article 11 of the Federal Constitution which states that Islam is the religion of the federation, and that other religions can be practised in peace and harmony anywhere in the federation.
“The Pakatan Harapan government must give support to public institutions such as the judiciary, the Attorney-General’s Chambers, enforcement, shariah courts, so that all those who live in Malaysia, even if they are not Malaysians, can experience this freedom,” she added.
The usage of Kalimah Allah and the ownership of religious materials remain a contentious and unresolved issue. It was reported that the High Court had deferred its ruling three times on whether Christians can use the word “Allah” in publications for the purpose of religious education within their own community.
A decision is, however, expected to be delivered at the end of this month, on Oct 29.
Ten years ago, customs officials seized eight CDs, titled “Cara Hidup Dalam Kerajaan Allah”, “Hidup Benar Dalam Kerajaan Allah” and “Ibadah Yang Benar Dalam Kerajaan Allah”, upon Sarawakian Jill Ireland’s arrival at the then Low-Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) in Sepang.
The Melanau Christian subsequently filed for a judicial review to reclaim the CDs and seek several declaratory reliefs.
In 2014, the High Court ordered the home ministry to return the CDs to Ireland, but declined to issue the declarations as it was bound by a Federal Court ruling.
The following year, the Court of Appeal upheld the ruling but ordered the High Court to hear Ireland’s application for the relief sought.
She is now seeking a declaration that her constitutional right to practise her religion was violated by the imposition of a restriction or ban on the import of educational materials.
In another case, the Federal Court ruled in 2014 that the Catholic Church’s Herald newsletter could not use “Allah”, the Arabic word for God, in its Bahasa Malaysia section.
Chief Justice Tun Arifin Zakaria chairing a seven-member panel delivered a 4-3 majority decision against the church.
The Herald had sought legal action after the home ministry prohibited it from using the word “Allah” and threatened to revoke its publishing permit.