Sarawak to amend state Shariah laws on apostasy

Sarawak Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Openg (second right) poses for a group picture with Archbishop of Kuching Simon Peter Poh (third left) at the opening of St Joseph International Private School in Kuching March 3, 2018. — Picture by Sulok Tawie
Sarawak Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Openg (second right) poses for a group picture with Archbishop of Kuching Simon Peter Poh (third left) at the opening of St Joseph International Private School in Kuching March 3, 2018. — Picture by Sulok Tawie

KUCHING, March 3 — Sarawak Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Openg pledged today that the state government will amend the Sarawak Syariah Court Ordinance 2001.

He said it was a solution for Muslim converts to leave Islam.

“Give me six months to do this,” he told reporters after opening a RM9.5 million St Joseph International Private School here.

He said it is not fair to leave Muslim converts who wish to exit the religion in suspense, as the National Registration Department (NRD) would not accept their applications to convert out of Islam.

“This is a matter of administrative decision,” he said.

Yesterday, the state Pakatan Harapan (PH) chapter urged the Sarawak government to amend state laws to provide clear guidelines so would-be apostates can get the necessary Letter of Release that will allow them to be officially recognised as no longer being Muslims.

The proposal came after the Federal Court ruled last Tuesday that only the state Shariah Court has the power to hear apostasy cases after four Sarawakians applied to leave Islam.

Three had wanted to return while the other embraced Christianity.

Abang Johari pointed out that the Federal Court hearing was only to decide which court, civil or Shariah, has jurisdiction over those who want to leave Islam.

He elaborated that since jurisdiction has been put in the hands of the Shariah court, then there should not be any legal hurdles that complicate matters for Muslim converts applying to exit the religion.

“There is a loophole in our court ordinance and I will strengthen it.

“Since they no longer have any faith [in Islam], there should not be any legal obstacle for them. And that is why there must be a court ruling to say that they are no longer Muslims and with that ruling, they can go to the National Registration Department to change their personal particulars and get new identity cards,” he said.

Earlier in his speech, the chief minister admitted to weaknesses in the state Shariah laws.

“I will amend it. If there are problems, there are solutions. There is no need to create confusion about this small matter.

“As your chief minister, I will solve the problems.”

Abang Johari said he did not want the misunderstanding on religions to grow and spread.

He said it is for this reason that the state government is using its autonomy on immigration to stop religious and racial extremists from peninsular Malaysia from entering Sarawak to create mistrusts among the followers of various faiths.

“I am a product of St Joseph’s school, and I am still a Muslim,” he said, adding that religion is a choice between a person and God.

The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Kuching Reverend Simon Peter Poh who was also present said in his speech that he had received many calls and messages of concern from his friends since his heckling at the Kuching High Court complex last Tuesday after the Federal Court hearing.

He attributed faith in God for keeping him calm amid the commotion.

“It is the loving God who teaches me to love my neighbours,” Poh said.

He added that the St Joseph School where he studied for 13 years had been a training ground for him to work with people of different faiths and races.

*Editor’s note: A press secretary to the Sarawak Chief Minister later clarified to Malay Mail that Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Openg did not mean the amendment will make it easier for Muslim converts to leave Islam as reported earlier. The article has since been amended. 

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