Christians, Muslim group hail landmark court ruling in Malaysia on freedom of religion

Christians attend Sunday Mass to celebrate Malaysia Day at a church in Tambunan, Malaysia.Reuters

Christians and even a Muslim group welcomed a recent landmark ruling by a High Court in Malaysia that recognised that freedom of religion is a fundamental human right. The court struck down a decades-long government policy that had made it tough for Christian converts to renounce their former Islamic faith without the consent of an Islamic court.

The Association of Churches in Sarawak praised the decision "as a ratification of the fundamental right to freedom of religion in Malaysia," Herald Malaysia reported.

"We are thankful to the Kuching High Court for coming to a fair and just decision in accordance with the law. We call upon the federal government to honour and give effect to the guarantee of religious freedom as provided in the Malaysia Agreement and uphold the constitutional rights and fundamental liberties accorded by the federal constitution to all citizens of Malaysia," the association said.

The Muslim group Sisters in Islam said the decision was in line with the principles of Islam as the religion that "promotes compassion and tolerance."

"This judgment reaffirms the supremacy of the Federal Constitution, which under Article 11 defends every Malaysian citizen's right to freedom of religion," the group said.

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High Court judge Yew Jen Kie of the Kuching High Court, Sarawak state granted the petition of Rooney Rebit asking judicial authorities to declare that his belief in Jesus Christ was a fundamental human right.

Rebit, 41, from a village in Sarawak, was born a Christian but was converted to Islam by his parents when he was about 10 years old and renamed Azmi Mohamad Azam.

Judge Yew ruled that Rebit is "free to exercise his right to freedom of religion and he chose Christianity.''

"Rebit could not be considered to have officially professed Islam because it was not his choice to embrace the religion. But when he became a Christian at the age of 24, he was mature enough to make a conscious decision,'' the ruling said, according to Worldmonitor.com.

The verdict is considered a milestone as conversion and apostasy in the predominantly Muslim country is viewed as sensitive.

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