Christian lawyer Victoria Martin lost her appeal to be able to represent clients in sharia (Islamic law) courts, the Morning Star News reported.
Martin wanted to be able to practice in sharia court, because if any Malay (who are inherently Muslims as per the country's constitution) wanted to leave Islam, he or she would have no option to be represented by a non-Muslim lawyer.
Any ethnic Malay who wishes to leave Islam is relegated to a 'non-Malay' status, and has to undergo trial at the Islamic court, from which they are sent to "re-education" camps. Finally, as a matter of norm, their request to change religion is rejected.
Martin studied at International Islamic University went on to receive a Masters in Comparative Law and a Diploma in Sharia Law. Her application to practice in a Kuala Lumpur sharia court was rejected, because she was a non-Muslim. This led her to file an appeal at the appellate level in June 2013, which was successful. Two years later, her case was heard in the highest court of Malaysia, and the verdict went against her on the grounds that only Muslims could practice in sharia law.
Ranjit Singh, Martin's lawyer, pointed out that during an August 1995 debate in Parliament, a provision was made for "non-Muslims who have adequate knowledge of sharia laws" to practice in sharia courts. Her case was defeated in spite of that provision.
However in a separate trial, a Bidayuh man from Sarawak was permitted to leave Islam as he was converted to the religion by his parents when he was 10 years old, and had not personally professed the faith. He was allowed to change his name formally, including on his national identity card, and was not required to give a release letter from sharia court.
The High Court in Malaysia recognized that freedom of religion was a fundamental human right. The court asked the Sarawak Islamic Religious Department and the Sarawak Islamic Council to give the man a letter of official release from Islam.
Although the Sarawak Islamic Religious Department and the Sarawak Islamic Council had already given him No Objection for leaving Islam, the National Registration Department asked for a confirmation from Sharia Court. But the case was not under its jurisdiction, as the man had undergone conversion as a minor. Hence, his case came to the high court, which gave him permission to renounce former Islamic faith.
Several national and international Christian organizations praised the ruling, which is being touted as a landmark victory for freedom of religion in Malaysia.
A Muslim group, Sisters in Islam also welcomed the decision, saying that the religion of Islam "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.
Malaysia is a Muslim-majority country with 61.3 percent adherents, 19.8 percent Buddhists, 9.2 percent Christians, and 6.3 percent Hindus.