Malaysian sentenced to 2 years in jail for abandoning Islam to join banned sect 

Associated Press

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) - A Muslim-born woman arrested for joining a banned sect was sentenced to two years in jail for renouncing her religion, her lawyer said Tuesday.

The case underscores growing concern about religious freedom in this mostly Muslim nation, where Islamic Shariah courts _ which govern the personal conduct and religious lives of Muslims _ have invariably refused to sanction the conversion of people who try to leave Islam.
A Shariah High Court judge in eastern Terengganu state ruled Monday that Kamariah Ali is still a Muslim despite her declaration to the contrary.
«The court is not convinced that the accused has repented and is willing to abandon any teachings contrary to Islam,» news reports quoted Judge Muhammad Abdullah as saying. «I pray God will open the doors of your heart, Kamariah.
Court officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday, a state holiday.
Last month, Kamariah, 57, was convicted of declaring herself an apostate after she and 58 others were arrested in July 2005 for following the teachings of the banned Sky Kingdom, a local sect claiming to promote interfaith harmony.
Kamariah's lawyer, Sa'adiah Din, said her client, who started serving her sentence Tuesday, insists she is no longer a Muslim and has instructed her to appeal the conviction and verdict.
«She informed the court that she is not a Muslim,» Sa'adiah told The Associated Press. «She doesn't come under Shariah court anymore.
Kamariah has already been convicted of apostasy in a separate case in 1992, and served less than 20 months, Sa'adiah said.

«This has to stop. They can't be sending her again and again to prison for this,» Sa'adiah said, adding she had little hope in Kamariah's appeal.
Sa'adiah said Kamariah also is facing a second charge of joining a banned sect, which is punishable by up to two years in prison. Hearings are scheduled to begin in May with most of the other alleged sect members arrested in 2005.
Kamariah's case highlights a dilemma faced by those who want to leave Islam in Malaysia, where Muslims make up 60 percent of the population. In the past, Muslims who renounce Islam have been sent to religious re-education camps.
Kamariah filed an application in civil court in 1998 to declare herself an apostate, but a Federal Court ruled in 2004 that it had no jurisdiction in the case and sent Kamariah to Shariah court, which administers civil matters for Muslims, Sa'adiah said.


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