KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 16 — The High Court here is expected to decide today whether a Buddhist man can nullify the conversion of his two children into Islam, which was done without his consent under allegedly dubious circumstances.
Today’s verdict will be the first for a judicial review against the unilateral conversion of children, following the Federal Court’s landmark ruling in January that overturned the conversion of Hindu mother M. Indira Gandhi’s three children into Islam.
Last month, the Court of Appeal decided that Shah Alam-based ethnic Chinese businessman Tan (not his real name) had sole custody of his converted children. His lawyer Honey Tan (no relation) is hopeful this will positively affect the decision today.
“Strictly speaking, the High Court is bound by Indira Gandhi’s decision. If it doesn’t apply the principles in Indira’s case, it will have to state the particular facts of this case that distinguishes it from Indira’s case.
“If it does depart from the principles laid down in the Indira case, the whole issue of unilateral conversion will once again be open and bring great uncertainty to our society,” Honey told Malay Mail in a brief interview yesterday.
She also pointed out that the senior federal counsel has not objected to the judicial review, and the Attorney General’s Chambers is bound by the decision.
Despite that, husband Tan’s legal hurdles may yet be over, as the ex-wife filed an appeal to the Federal Court last week over the appellate court’s decision on custody.
The Court of Appeal had ruled Tan will have sole guardianship, custody, care and control of their daughter and son, reversing an earlier decision by the High Court in Shah Alam. The ex-wife must also return the RM30,000 costs paid by the appellant under the previous order by the High Court.
Based on court documents sighted by Malay Mail, the ex-wife will argue whether several definitions of “the best interest of child” are “necessarily rebutted or displaced” in favour of the other parent, by the mere act of the other parent converting the child.
The ex-wife also wishes to argue whether the landmark Indira ruling took into account “appropriate interpretation” of the Federal Constitution, and that the Guardian of Infants Act 1961 states that parents have “equal” rights and authority, and not “joint”.
No date has been set yet for this appeal in the Federal Court.
Tan has previously claimed purported “hidden hands” behind his ex-wife’s decisions, saying she has not had to pay a sen to her numerous lawyers over the years ― and a party may have been bankrolling her.
In today’s case, Tan seeks to invalidate the 2016 unilateral conversion to Islam and certificates of conversion of his two children, who were born in a civil marriage when his now ex-wife was still a Buddhist.
The names of the family, including the father and mother aged 46 and 42 respectively, cannot be disclosed due to a court order.
The lawsuit filed on June 14, 2016 is against five respondents, namely the Federal Territories Islamic Religious Department (Jawi) director-general, the Federal Territories Registrar of Muslim Converts, the education ministry director-general, the government of Malaysia, and the Muslim convert mother.
The two children, then aged eight and three, were converted to Islam on May 11, 2016 without the father’s knowledge and consent. That was also the day that he had filed a fresh application for divorce at the High Court in Shah Alam.