The Federal Court scheduled a hearing on Monday (Feb 26) for the joint appeal of four Sarawakians who want to convert out of Islam.
They are currently appealing for official records and documents to reflect Christianity as their practicing faith as well.
However, the focus of the hearing was on determining whether their lawsuit could be heard by the civil courts at all.
Three of the appellants – Mohd Syafiq Abdullah @Tiong Choo Ting, Jenny Peter @ Nur Muzdhalifah Abdullah and Salina Jau Abdullah – were initially non-Muslims who converted to Islam for sake of marriage but returned to Christianity after divorcing or upon the death of their spouses.
The fourth appellant, Syarifah Nooraffyza Wan Hosen, was previously a Muslim.
Contradictory statements by the civil courts about only Shariah courts having the power to hear their bids and by the Sarawak Shariah courts saying that it has no authority to issue a Letter of Release from Islam have left them in a legal deadlock.
In a statement after the hearing, the appellants’ lawyer Baru Bian, said in a The Star Online report: “We leave it to the court to decide. I believe they will base it on the law.”
He added that the matter of apostasy or conversion out of Islam should be expressly provided in the Shariah Court Ordinance in order for the Shariah Court to have jurisdiction over the matter.
This was not the only legal hurdle in their bid to the civil courts to declare themselves as Christians.
In 2015, the High Court dismissed Syarifah Nooraffyza and the remaining three appellants’ application for leave to have their lawsuits heard on two separate occasions.
The four of them also had their appeals rejected by the Court of Appeal in 2016, leaving their lawsuits on seeking to be recognised as non-Muslims to be left ignored.
Religious freedom has been a controversial and touchy topic in Sarawak despite the liberty previously being promised.