Sunday June 25, 2006

All eyes on Lina Joy case

This woman wants to get on with her life – get married, have children but something is blocking her plan. She cannot register her marriage at the civil registry. CHELSEA L.Y. NG examines Lina Joy's dilemma. 

FORTY-two years ago, a baby girl was born and named Azlina Jailani by her Malay parents. The girl was brought up as a Muslim but at the age of 26 she decided to become a Christian. 

In 1999, she managed to change the name in her identity card to Lina Joy but her joy was incomplete as her religion remained stated as Islam. 

Now having waited many years for the word “Islam’’ to be deleted from her IC so she could have a legitimate marriage or offspring, the issue may finally be resolved once and for all.  

The Federal Court gave leave in April for her to appeal on the question of whether she needed to prove apostasy on her part before the word “Islam’’ could be deleted from her IC.  

This question, which the apex court is going to answer after it hears her appeal this week, will no longer be the lone anguish of Lina and her boyfriend. 

The verdict will have repercussions not only on these two, otherwise very ordinary people – she is a sales assistant and he a cook – but on other Muslims who are in the same boat. 

Chief Justice Tun Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim, when granting the leave in April, said that the matter was of public importance. 

“Further argument followed by a decision of the Federal Court would be to the public’s advantage,’’ the top judge said. 

Ahmad Fairuz together with Federal Court judges Justices Richard Malanjum and S. Augustine Paul also allowed the question of whether the National Registration Department had correctly construed its powers to impose the requirement on Lina when it was not expressly provided for under National Registration Regulations. 

Another question that the court would be determining is whether the Syariah Court is the sole authority to decide on the issue of conversion out of Islam. 

During the leave proceedings, Lina’s counsel Datuk Dr Cyrus Das argued that the NRD had acted beyond its jurisdiction. 

“The unwillingness of the NRD to delete the word ‘Islam’ is unreasonable,” he said. 

Das also argued that renunciation of Islam was a matter of constitutional right. 

Senior federal counsel Datuk Umi Kalthum Abdul Majid, who is representing the NRD and the Government, argued that Lina’s case did not raise any new issue.  

She said the NRD had not imposed any new condition but was merely complying with the law of the land, which authorised the Syariah Court to deal with matters involving conversions and apostasy. 

“How can the NRD change the status of the applicant to say that she is no longer a Muslim? It cannot do that.  

“If it does, then it would be officially pronouncing the applicant an apostate, which even this august court cannot do for obvious reasons,” she said. 

Sulaiman Abdullah, counsel for the Federal Territory Religious Council, told the court not to allow apostates to abuse the NRD in order to avoid facing the punishment by the Syariah Court. 

“We cannot have a back-door method for people who try to avoid facing the Syariah Court by going to the NRD to change their status from Muslim to non-Muslim,” he said. 

The leave was granted more than six months after Lina’s appeal was dismissed by the Court of Appeal. 

She had appealed to delete the word “Islam” from her identity card and to claim that she was free to practise the religion of her choice. 

The Court of Appeal, in a majority decision ruled that the NRD director-general was right in not allowing the application on the grounds that the Syariah Court and other Islamic religious authorities did not confirm Lina’s renunciation of Islam. 

Justice Gopal Sri Ram, who gave a dissenting judgment, said the NRD’s refusal to make the amendment in Lina’s identity card without an order or certificate from the Syariah Court was null and void and was of no effect. 

The case first entered the legal arena on April 23, 2001 when the High Court refused to decide on Lina's application to renounce Islam as her religion on the ground that the issue should be decided by the Syariah Court.  

It also dismissed Lina's application for an order to direct the department to drop the word “Islam” from her identity card.  


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