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Tougher law for Malaysia converts

ICC Note: In the wake of the Lina Joy case, which stated that Muslims cannot change the religion listed on their government ID card without the approval of the Muslim court system which considers leaving Islam a crime, one state in Malaysia moves to stiffen the penalty for “proselytizing”.

7/2/07 Malaysia (AlJazeera) – The only opposition-ruled state in Malaysia has approved stiffer penalties to deter people from trying to convert Muslims to other faiths.

Under the revised law passed by Kelantan state, anyone found guilty faces a maximum penalty of six lashes with a rattan cane, five years in prison and a fine of almost $3,000.

The previous maximum penalty was two years in prison and a fine of RM5,000 ($1,400).

Proselytising of Muslims is forbidden under federal laws, but the recent case of Lina Joy, a Malay-Muslim woman who sought legal recognition of her right to pick her religion of choice, raised fears among some in Malaysia over mass conversion.

According to the latest US state department data on Malaysia , ethnic Malays – who are Muslims by law – make up about half the population but are officially grouped together as Bumiputera, or sons of the soil, with indigenous groups who make up 11 per cent of the population, not all of whom are Muslims.

In Malaysia , Islam comes under state-level jurisdiction and religious authorities often send Malay Muslims who try to leave the faith for counselling and rehabilitation.

Some have also been imprisoned for apostasy.

In the Lina Joy case, the woman who was born to Muslim parents failed to get the country’s highest civil court to recognise her right to choose her own faith.

The Malaysian constitution guarantees freedom of worship for all citizens but the country’s parallel Islamic legal system often gives rise to religious conflicts.

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