As we reported last month, Roneey Anak Rebit from a village in Sarawak was born into a Christian family, but his parents became Muslims when he was eight years old meaning that he was deemed to have converted too. However, in 1999 he was baptised as a Christian and began a lengthy legal battle with the government’s registration department to be registered as a Christian. Although the High Court judge ruled in his favour, saying that he had not voluntarily become a Muslim, Malaysia’s attorney general then launched an appeal against this on behalf of the National Registration Department (NRD). However, in a surprise move, Sarawak’s Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem announced that the National Registration Department plans to withdraw its appeal.
The move was welcomed by the Association of Churches, Sarawak (ACS). Its secretary-general, Ambrose Linang, expressed the hope that the NRD will, from now, process any application from Muslim converts who seek to return to their previous religions. “NRD should not make it difficult for the Muslim converts to go back to their old religions.”
Roneey’s lawyer, Chua Kuan Ching, said the NRD’s withdrawal of the appeal was a step forward for freedom of religion, but added, “I do hope the matter should not be confined to this particular case alone as there are quite a number of cases involving freedom of religion in Sarawak which the federal government should settle as well.”
Sarawak is Malaysia’s only Christian majority state.