Responding to death threats, “insults and other abuse” from some Muslims over a case that the apex court ruled yesterday, lawyer Baru Bian denied today allegations on social media that he was trying to convert his four Sarawakian Muslim clients into Christianity.
In dismissing an application by the four Sarawakians for the civil court to hear their apostasy cases, the Federal Court ruled that the Sarawak Shariah Court had jurisdiction to hear the four appellants’ applications to leave Islam.
“The knee-jerk reaction of some members of the Muslim community in hurling insults and abuse at me, and even calling for my death, after the Federal Court decision yesterday, clearly shows that they do not know the background of the cases.
“They don’t know how the legal trials and tribulations of the four individuals have come to this.
“I was out of town attending another case when the decision was delivered.
“Upon my return last night, I was saddened and shocked to see the videos and postings, and the statement by PAS Youth against me,” Baru said in a strongly-worded statement yesterday.
He said that the four individuals – a Malay-born Muslim and three Muslim converts – only came to see him when they had run out of options in trying to officially leave Islam.
“By the time I met them, they had long ceased to be practising Muslims.
“So to accuse me of making them ‘murtad’ (apostate) is vicious slander.
“I am disappointed that those who profess to practise their religious faith should make these false accusations against me.
“Nevertheless, my own religious conviction compels me to forgive and love them, for they do not know what they are doing,” Baru said.
He said those who accused him of having a Christian agenda by representing these four individuals free-of-charge were blatant liars.
“I have been representing them in my professional capacity as a lawyer and they have paid my professional fees and court fees,” he said, stating that those who make up lies about him clearly have political motives or have a deep-seated insecurity about their own religious convictions.
“If I had any Christian agenda, then the authorities should have taken action against me. And if these converts were wrong to convert out of Islam, then Sarawak Islamic Religious Department (Jais) or Sarawak Islamic Affairs Council (Mais) or the Shariah Court should have charged them when they informed them of their intention to leave Islam or when they were called for counselling,” he said.
Despite the slander and insults hurled at him, Baru said he would not take action against anyone.
Failing of the System
Baru, who is Sarawak PKR chairman and Ba’Kelalan state assemblyman, blamed the system for failing the four individuals.
The four were seeking a court order to nullify their status as Muslims and compel the National Registration Department (NRD) to recognise them as Christians.
“They had done everything that they were asked to do, and yet, the release they wanted was never given,” he said.
He revealed that their letters to JAIS were ignored while in one case, letters to the National Registration Department (NRD) and the Chief Minister’s Office also met with no response.
“The details of each case differ, but I only took up these cases after the applicants had hit the proverbial brick wall.
“After taking on the cases, my legal firm had been informed that the NRD required a letter of release from the Shariah Court in order for them to amend the applicants’ identity cards and particulars in their system.
“However, when we inquired from or applied for such letters from the Shariah Court, we received a letter from the court to say that they had no power to issue such letters of release under the Shariah Court Ordinance Sarawak 2001,” he said.
Baru said the legal proceedings had to be filed in the civil High Court for its opinion.
”Contrary to the Shariah Court’s letter, lawyers for JAIS, MAIS and the NRD argued that the Shariah Court has the implied power to deal with apostasy,” he said.
He said as the law was not clear on the matter, the issue had to be brought all the way to the Federal Court which finally made its decision yesterday morning that the Shariah Court had the jurisdiction to hear apostasy cases.
“The legal issue is now settled,” he added.
Baru lamented that few lawyers were willing to take on conversion cases for fear of being branded as “menghina Islam” (insulting Islam) or because they did not want to come up against all sorts of red tape and obstacles facing these applicants.
“The problem arose because the Shariah Ordinance is silent on its jurisdiction to decide on apostasy matters and the Shariah Court has declined jurisdiction.
“The decision of the Federal Court allows us to move forward. The legislature should consider whether the Ordinance should be amended to make the law clear.”
The four individuals are Syarifah Nooraffyzza Wan Hosen, Tiong Choo Ting, Salina Jau and Jenny Peter.
Syarifah Nooraffyzza left Islam voluntarily and embraced Christianity in 2009.
Tiong Choo Ting, a Chinese-Bidayuh Christian, who converted to Islam to marry a Muslim woman, later decided to return to Christianity after the death of his wife.
Salina Jau, a Kayan/Kenyah Christian, converted to Islam to marry a Malay-Muslim man but decided to return to Christianity after her divorce.
Jenny Peter, a Melanau Christian, converted to Islam to marry a Muslim but also decided to return to Christianity after her divorce.
Meanwhile, Sabah police are investigating the death threat by a Facebook user against Baru.
A police report was lodged by Sarawak PKR vice-chairman See Chee How at the Simpang Tiga one-stop centre yesterday.
In the police report, See stated that he was alerted by a comment posted under an online news article ‘Baru Bian hina umat Islam Sarawak’ by a person using the name Helmi Bin Abdullah Mee and his message read “Baru Bian must be shot dead at all cost(s)”.
See stated he was concerned for the safety of Baru.
“Furthermore, the posting is instigating violence and most likely arousing anxiety and hostility among those readers who read this article, thereby disrupting the peace and harmony among all Malaysians and Sarawakians.
“I lodged this complaint for the prompt investigation and action of the police,” See, who is also Batu Lintang assemblyman, said in the report.
According to Bernama, Sarawak CID chief SAC Datuk Dev Kumar MM Sree Shunmugam said efforts were being made to identify the Facebook user who posted the inflammatory comment.
“We are investigating the report as criminal intimidation under section 507 of the Penal Code and section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act,” he said.
Baru also expressed his gratitude to Muslims who had stood up to the threats and abuse hurled against Christian leaders and himself.
“I wish to thank them for the very rational and reasonable stands made by them, including my colleagues in Sarawak PKR.
“I believe it is time for many others to join in this chorus calling for acceptance and peace.”