‘Indira judgment welcomed, but authorities must follow through’

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Source: Free Malaysia Today

PETALING JAYA: A human rights NGO today hailed a landmark ruling which set aside the unilateral conversion of three children to Islam, expressing hope however that the authorities would follow through.

Lawyers for Liberty executive director Eric Paulsen said the Federal Court’s ruling in M Indira Gandhi’s case was long overdue.

He said he was happy that the matter had been resolved “in the favour of justice”, adding that the ruling shows that Muslims and non-Muslims are equal under the law.

“But failure of authorities to follow through on the decision will impact the confidence in court judgments.

“It could lead to a collapse of the system which could see people taking matters into their own hands,” he told FMT.

Adding that ignoring court decisions was tantamount to contempt of court, Paulsen said he hoped the ruling would prevent anyone from trying to hide behind shariah law to circumvent the civil courts.

Earlier today, the Federal Court ruled that any conversion of non-Muslim children under 18 must have the consent of both parents.

The ruling put an end to the interfaith custody battle that followed after Indira’s ex-husband Muhammad Riduan Abdullah converted their three children without her knowledge in 2009.

Riduan, formerly known as K Pathmanathan, converted to Islam on March 11, 2009. He left the house three weeks later with their youngest child.

On April 2, 2009, he converted all three of their children to Islam without their knowledge and presence, and without Indira’s consent. He went to the Shariah Court several days later to obtain custody over them.

Zaid Ibrahim, Art Harun share similar concerns

Lawyer Azhar Harun agreed with Paulsen, saying his concern was whether the authorities would follow through with the ruling.

He referred to former inspector-general of police Khalid Abu Bakar, who had refused to carry out the High Court’s order to arrest Riduan, saying there were contradicting orders from the Shariah Court and civil courts on the matter.

“I hope the authorities will respect the Federal Court’s ruling. If they don’t, what’s the point?

“The fact that I have to express such hope is telling.”

The rights activist, popularly known as Art Harun, had earlier welcomed the decision by the apex court, saying it meant no more appeals on the matter.

He said the court had made two things clear: firstly, that the Registrar of Muallafs (Muslim converts) was a public authority whose actions could be revised by courts.

Secondly, he said, it showed that the conversion of a child needed the consent of both parents if the child is below 18 years old.

“These principals are laid out clearly,” he said.

Former minister Zaid Ibrahim also welcomed the court ruling, calling it a courageous decision.

He said he was happy that the Federal Court had not given in to pressure from groups with their own agendas.

“This is a good sign for the country. I’m very happy for all parents,” he told FMT when contacted.

But like Paulsen and Azhar, he too expressed hope that today’s judgement would be carried out, especially by the police.

“Justice must be done and seen to be done, otherwise it will negate the Federal Court’s ruling today,” he said when contacted.