In police report, woman says Johor Islamic authorities harassing her over lawsuit against unilateral conversion
KUALA LUMPUR, March 30 — A Johor woman has accused an Islamic body from Kota Tinggi of harassment, alleging its officers visited to allegedly “scold” her for a lawsuit seeking to challenge a Johor state law allowing the unilateral conversion of children to Islam.
Malay Mail has withheld the identity of the woman for her personal safety. In her lawsuit filed earlier this month, she said she was converted to Islam as a child in Johor by only one of her parents and without consent from the other parent, but did not profess Islam and instead practised Hinduism.
In a police report she lodged this morning, the woman said five officers from the Kota Tinggi Islamic Religious Department came to her house yesterday afternoon in a van, with the only uniformed officer introducing the group to be officers of the department.
Alone at her house with her three children, the woman said they had asked her to open her door, and they had then entered her house and scolded her for filing a lawsuit against the Johor state government. She is both a plaintiff and a witness in that lawsuit.
In the same police report, the woman said those officers had scolded her for not wearing a tudung (Muslim headscarf) in her own home.
She said the officers had breached her privacy by taking videos and photos of her, her three young children and her house without her permission. She added that she had lodged the police report out of fear and worry for the safety of herself and her children.
On March 3, this woman had along with 13 others filed a lawsuit against eight laws enabling unilateral conversion to Islam in seven states and Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Labuan.
The eight respondents in the lawsuit were named as the state governments of Perlis, Kedah, Melaka, Negeri Sembilan, Pahang, Perak, Johor and the government of the federal territories of Malaysia.
This afternoon, Arun Dorasamy — who is also one of the 14 plaintiffs who had filed the lawsuit — described the Kota Tinggi Islamic religious body’s visit to the woman’s house as “harassment”.
Arun, otherwise known as Arumugam Dorasamy, was speaking on behalf of the legal unit in non-governmental organisation Pertubuhan Hindu Agamam Ani Malaysia. The organisation, which deals with the Hindu community’s social welfare, is also one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
Arun said any Islamic bodies should instead challenge the lawsuit in the courts, instead of carrying out such harassment.
“They were interviewing and scolding her why she filed a case in the KL High Court, this is totally unacceptable. As a Malaysian, she has a right to file a case in any court of her choice.
“And all parties whether defendant or plaintiff must stand down and give due chance to the court to decide on the matter. This type of harassment to our plaintiff is uncalled for. It is illegal. It’s amounting to tampering with the witness. She is a witness in this case. And also, this is utterly a contempt of court,” he said in a press conference.
“And on behalf of all these 14 plaintiffs, and also legal unit Agamam Ani, we ask all the parties involved, Jabatan Agama Islam, we see you in court, whatever you want to bring forward, bring forward in court, do not come and harass our plaintiffs, this is not right,” he said.
“We take this one very, very seriously because one of the biggest problems why this issue has never been taken to court, because scared of harassment from the related Jabatan, and that’s exactly what is happening today,” he added.
He said efforts will be made to initiate contempt of court proceedings against Johor’s Islamic body over the harassment to the woman.
According to Arun, the Islamic body’s officers refused her request for them to speak to her lawyers instead, and had questioned her on her choice of attire in her own house besides also reprimanding her for not wearing the Muslim head covering for women in her house.
Arun said the Islamic body officers had also taken photos of the altar at the woman’s house.
Arun said the woman has been raised as a Hindu, always practised Hindusim, and was married to a Hindu husband with all her children also practising Hinduism.
As for the official records which state her religious status to be a Muslim, Arun said the woman has that status because of her unilateral conversion and does not know how she can rectify it, adding that it is not easy to renounce the religion.
“And when she comes out and wants to find a way out, she got harassed. So what’s the mother to do?”
“She doesn’t understand why they are there, never in her life she’s been visited by any religious authority ever, questioning her faith, questioning her outlook, why she is wearing this, why she is not wearing that, it is her right, and she’s in her house. You coming to the house and scolding a person, I don’t know how much that is allowed,” he said.
Arun said the Islamic body’s officers had also separately interviewed the woman’s three school-going children by asking them which school they go to and whether they are taught about Islam in school, as well as asking them what religion they practise.
Arun said that children should be interviewed according to procedure, such as during police interviews where the welfare department would be present, adding: “This is uncalled for, this is totally harassment, totally wrong.”
“She’s scared, she’s just worried about her children’s wellbeing if Jabatan Agama Islam will take her children away — that kind of normal thing that a mother would worry about,” he said.
Arun said the woman is shaken up and has also asked him if she is safe.
Arun said it is difficult for minorities in Malaysia to fight cases involving unilateral conversion and the only choice for them to defend their religious freedom is by going to court, adding that the rule of law is not being respected when such harassment happens after a lawsuit is filed.
The lawsuit was filed on March 3, and the court process is already underway with the first case management held on March 20 and the next case management on April 5.