NRD appeals against court recognition of Sarawakian Muslim convert's bid to be Christian again

In a landmark ruling on March 24, the Kuching High Court ruled in Roneey's favour and ordered the NRD to issue a new MyKad with the name he was born with. ― Picture by Choo Choy May
In a landmark ruling on March 24, the Kuching High Court ruled in Roneey's favour and ordered the NRD to issue a new MyKad with the name he was born with. ― Picture by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, April 25 ― The National Registration Department (NRD) has filed an appeal against a High Court decision recognising a Sarawakian Muslim convert's right to be legally known as a Christian again.

Lawyer Chua Kuan Ching said the NRD was the only one out of three respondents to have filed its notice of appeal against her client Roneey anak Rebit on April 22, the last weekday before the end of a 30-day deadline on April 24.

“So they just filed an appeal on Friday, they appealed to the Court of Appeal, so we will see what will happen with that,” she told Malay Mail Online when contacted.

The reasons for the NRD's appeal will be contained in the memorandum of appeal that they will have to file in court within eight weeks, Chua said.

In a landmark ruling on March 24, the Kuching High Court ruled in Roneey's favour and ordered the NRD to issue a new MyKad with the name he was born with and with the Muslim classification removed.

Chua confirmed that her client has not received a new MyKad from the NRD.

“Since they have filed the appeal, we just have to deal with it. We are actually a bit disappointed,” she said.

She said that although they had expected an appeal to be filed, she said that NRD's insistence is “definitely not appropriate” as the two other parties involved including the Sarawak Islamic Religious Department had no objections to her client's court victory.

She explained the court ruling last month in her client's favour was a landmark decision, as it involved the recognition of the constitutional right to religious freedom of an adult who was converted to Muslim as a child.

“He was born as a non-Muslim, so when he has reached the age of majority, he has the right to profess his own religion. Rightfully decided by High Court judge, he's just exercising his freedom within the Constitution,” she said.

Roneey, now 41, was eight years old when his Christian parents embraced Islam and he was made to follow the religion of his guardians.

The March 24 decision saw Kuching High Court Judge Datuk Yew Jen Kie saying that Roneey cannot be considered a Muslim and was not subject to the Shariah court's jurisdiction, as his conversion then was not of his own volition.

Her ruling meant that Roneey would be able to be legally recognised as a Christian again, after decades of being identified as a Muslim by the name of Azmi Azam Shah in official identification records.

Rooney’s court case came about because the NRD insisted that he should get an order from the Shariah Court before it could drop the word “Islam” from his identity card.

In his judicial review filed at the civil courts, Rooney had applied for an order to compel the Sarawak Islamic Religious Department and the Sarawak Islamic Council to formally release from the religion of Islam so he could declare himself a Christian. Both religious bodies reportedly did not object to the issuing of such a letter of release.

The Bidayuh had among other things also wanted an order compelling the NRD to change all records of his religion in the National Registry to Christianity.