'Apostasy' Bill contravenes constitution, says group

A 29-member delegation today sent in a petition to the Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) registering their dissatisfaction with the government's reported intention to table in Parliament the Restoration of Faith Bill.

The Bill is now in the final stages and would soon be sent to the Attorney-General's office for scrutiny, according to a Bernama report dated Sept 16, quoting parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister's Department, Noh Omar.

The contents of the Bill include: "(a) Provision would be made to empower the religious authorities to detain those Muslims involved in deviant teachings and practices for up to a year at faith rehabilitation centres; and (b) provision is made to empower the religious authorities to check incidence of apostasy among Muslims in the country."

The delegation in a press release stated that "the proposed Restoration of Faith Bill, should it become law, would constitute an infringement of their constitutional right, as enshrined within the terms of Article 11(1) of the Federal Constitution."

Article 11(1) of the Federal Constitution states that: "Every person has the right to profess and practise his religion and subject to clause (4), to propagate it."

A delegation spokesman, Haris Ibrahim, told reporters that a similar bill called the Protection of Muslim Faith Bill has already been tabled and approved at the Perlis State Assembly last June.

"There is only one motivation to present this complaint. It is a constitutional right, nothing else, that motivated us. We - 29 Malaysians - are proud to take a step to protect our rights."

"When it is a constitutional issue, details of differences become irrelevant. We do not wish to confuse the matter taken to Suhakam."

'Deviant teachings'

The Bernama report also quoted Noh as saying that a faith restoration centre has been set up in Bangi to house people found guilty of practising "deviant teachings".

Referring to this centre, the delegation stated that "as matters of perception of faith must forever remain a matter of personal conscience", they believe the answer to the problem of apostasy cannot be found in enforced detention of an individual for such a "rehabilitative programme".

When asked if a forum on the issue of the Bill would be organised, Haris said that he would look forward to speaking to any party though he had not contacted anybody yet.

"There are federal laws governing religion and beliefs which are not present in any other country in the world. These laws are inconsistent with the constitution," another delegation member Mohamad Redza told malaysiakini .

"These kinds of laws would chase people away," he added.

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