- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 30, 2007

PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia — Malaysia’s top civil court yesterday rejected a woman’s appeal to be recognized as a Christian, in a landmark case that tested the limits of religious freedom in this moderate Islamic country.

Lina Joy, who was born Azlina Jailani, had applied for a name change on her government identity card. The National Registration Department obliged but refused to drop Muslim from the religion column.

She appealed the decision to a civil court but was told she must take it to Islamic Shariah courts. Miss Joy, 43, argued that she should not be bound by Shariah law because she is a Christian.

A three-judge Federal Court panel ruled by a 2-1 majority that only the Shariah court has the power to allow her to remove the word “Islam” from the religion category on her government identity card.

“She cannot simply at her own whims enter or leave her religion,” Judge Ahmad Fairuz said. “She must follow rules.”

Judge Richard Malanjum, the only non-Muslim on the panel, sided with Miss Joy, saying it was “unreasonable” to ask her to turn to the Shariah court because she could face criminal prosecution there. Apostasy is a crime punishable by fines and jail sentences in Malaysia. Offenders are often sent to prisonlike rehabilitation centers.

Miss Joy was not present at the hearing.

Her attorney, Benjamin Dawson, said Miss Joy is “extremely disappointed” with the verdict.

“That to Lina is a denial of her constitutional right to decide the religion of her choice,” Mr. Dawson said.

Miss Joy has not decided on the next course of action, as her options are limited, he said. She can choose to remain a Muslim, appear before the Shariah court, or emigrate.

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