HAF Decries Ruling in Malaysia Conversion Case, Demands Intervention by Government

Washington, D.C. (January 12, 2016) -- The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) expressed serious concern today over a court ruling in the case of M. Indira Gandhi, a Hindu teacher in Malaysia, whose three children were unilaterally converted from Hinduism to Islam by her ex-husband, without her consent. A Court of Appeals decision found that the validity of the conversions must be heard by a Shariah (Islamic law) court instead of the country’s civil court system.

The country’s Shariah courts have limited jurisdiction to hear only cases involving personal and family matters for Muslims and are not authorized to hear pleas from non-Muslims.

“M. Indira Gandhi’s case is emblematic of the inherent discrimination and prejudice non-Muslims often face when navigating Malaysia’s legal system,” said Samir Kalra, Esq., HAF Senior Director and Human Rights Fellow. “Subjecting religious minorities to the jurisdiction of the Shariah courts is a blatant violation of their fundamental rights to freedom of religion and equal protection under the law.”

According to the Foundation and other human rights groups, the case also highlighted problematic interpretations of Article 12(4) of the Federal Constitution, which states, “[T]he religion of a person under the age of eighteen years shall be decided by his parent or guardian.” This ambiguous provision has led to unilateral conversions of minor children by one parent without the consent of the other parent, as in the case of Gandhi. HAF has extensively covered religious freedom issues in Malaysia in its annual Hindu human rights report.

In an official letter to Malaysia’s Ambassador to the United States, Awang Adek Hussin, HAF requested intervention by the Malaysian government to: (1) address the ambiguous nature of Article 12(4) of the Constitution; (2) ensure that Gandhi is not forced to adjudicate her case in the Shariah courts; and (3) clarify the jurisdiction of the Shariah courts in order to protect the rights and religious freedom of all non-Muslims in Malaysia.

Media reports indicate that three Cabinet members have been appointed to look into the matter, but there has been no indication over the scope or timeline of their investigation. Malaysia’s Prime Minister Abdul Razak had previously indicated his own concerns over the controversial interpretations of Article 12(4) that restrict the rights of non-Muslim parents.