The government has come under fire for setting up yet another cabinet committee on the issue of unilateral conversions, after having set up one in 2009.
The members of the new committee - Tourism Minister Nazri Aziz, Health Minister Dr S Subramaniam and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Jamil Khir Baharom - were all involved in the previous version.
DAP Sungkai assemblyman A Sivanesan questioned the new committee to look into the judgement on M Indira Gandhi case, saying decisions of the previous committee had yet to be enforced.
Sivanesan, who previously represented Indira, pointed out that the Cabinet’s 2009 decision to ban unilateral conversion was also made based on her case.
However the Conference of Rulers later that year put the brakes on the issue and the proposed amendments were never tabled in Parliament.
“The main question here is whether the BN government has the guts to amend the necessary laws, particularly in view of their current ‘close relationship’ with PAS,” Sivanesan toldMalaysiakini.
Among others, Sivanesan cited proposed amendments to Section 51(1) of the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976, with regards to automatic dissolution of a civil marriage in the event that only one spouse has converted to Islam.
“Under the present law, the non-converted spouse can only apply for a divorce three months after his or her partner had converted to Islam.
“In most cases, it is the wife who has to spend her own money for the betrayal of her husband. Why are we victimising the wife?” he said, arguing that the three-month provision is unnecessary because a Muslim is forbidden to be in a marriage with a non-Muslim.
Sivanesan, who is a lawyer by profession, noted that some of the proposed amendments would also require amending Article 12(4) of the Federal Constitution, to expand the definition of a “parent” with rights to decide a child’s religious status.
In August last year, de facto law minister Nancy Shukri had reportedly said that an amendment to the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976, meant to harmonise civil and syariah laws, was being drafted by the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC).
Sivanesan, however, said that Nancy’s predecessor, Nazri, had since 2009 pledged for legal reforms to be undertaken in order to resolve such cases involving unilateral conversions.