HAF Implores Malaysian Government to Address Forced Conversion Case

Washington, D.C. (March 20, 2015) -- The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) voiced serious concern today over a case involving the reported false imprisonment and forced conversion of a 14-year old Hindu boy to Islam in Malaysia, imploring the Malaysian government to take immediate action to address the matter.

The 14-year old boy, G. Thiayagguru, was recently released from detainment at the Pusat Dakwah Islam rehabilitation center in the state of Negeri Sembilan and is currently in critical condition at Seremban hospital after his traumatizing ordeal and fear of being sent back to the rehabilitation center led him to attempt suicide. It is unclear at this time whether he will survive.

According to Hindraf Makkal Sakthi, a human rights NGO, as well as multiple news reports, Thiayagguru, was forcibly converted to Islam by two teachers at his school on February 13, 2015. The teachers reportedly also filed a complaint with the Negeri Sembilan Islamic authorities, informing them that Thiayagguru was a practicing Hindu, contrary to the designation of Islam listed on his national identification card. The Islamic authorities subsequently took Thiayagguru and detained him at the rehabilitation center without first notifying or obtaining his father’s consent.

“The actions of the two teachers, the Islamic authorities, and the detention center, if true, are serious violations of Malaysian criminal law and the fundamental rights to freedom of religion and equal protection under the constitution,” said Samir Kalra, Esq., HAF’s Senior Director and Human Rights Fellow. “Regrettably, these types of occurrences are becoming increasingly common in Malaysia and are further marginalizing the already vulnerable and insecure Hindu community.”

The police, however, have yet to open an investigation into the circumstances of the case, despite several police reports filed by Thiayagguru’s father.

In Malaysia, all citizens are required to list their religion on their national identification card and other public documents. And a child’s religion is determined according to his father’s religion at the time of birth.

Thiayagguru’s father, Mr. Ganesan, who is also a practicing Hindu, had previously converted to Islam in order to marry an Indonesian Muslim woman and was a Muslim at the time of Thiayagguru’s birth. After Mr. Ganesan’s wife abandoned the family in 2001 (when Thiayagguru was only one years old), he reconverted to Hinduism and raised Thiayagguru as a Hindu. Mr. Ganesan obtained a decree from the Syariah (Islamic) court in 2003 allowing him to officially renounce Islam and sanctioning his reconversion, but he was unable to change the religious designation on Thiayagguru’s identification card to Hinduism.

“This case epitomizes the discriminatory nature of religion based laws in Malaysia,” said Jay Kansara, HAF’s Director of Government Relations. “The over reliance on official religious identification in public documents has resulted in widespread bias and prejudice against non-Muslims.”

In a letter to the Malaysian Prime Minister, HAF implored the Malaysian government to: (1) advise the Negeri Sembilan Islamic authorities to allow Thiayagguru to renounce the Islamic religion listed on his identification card, as he is a practicing Hindu; (2) ensure that no further attempts will be made to interfere with the religious rights of Thiayagguru or his family; and (3) order an immediate police investigation into the actions of the teachers, Islamic authorities, and detention center.

HAF also requested an urgent meeting with Malaysia’s Ambassador to the U.S.