Withdrawal of controversial Conversion Bill welcomed but Cabinet owes public an explanation on three key questions

The withdrawal of the controversial Administration of the Religion of Islam (Federal Territories) Bill 2013 is welcomed although it ought not to have been tabled in the first place.

In his statement, Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin said the Cabinet , had decided at yesterday’s meeting to withdraw the Bill from the current Dewan Rakyat meeting following concerns from various quarters, including Barisan Nasional’s component party members.

“The Cabinet has discussed in depth the issue of the status of a child’s religion when his mother or father converts to Islam,” said Muhyiddin.

“We agreed that the Bill’s withdrawal was necessary to ensure that such cases were resolved in a fair manner to all.

However, there are many questions which remain unanswered and which the Cabinet owes the public an explanation.

Among the questions are three key questions which the Cabinet has to be transparent about.

The first question is why has the government tabled the controversial Bill that contradicts the 2009 Cabinet decision which bans unilateral conversion of minors?

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Nazri Aziz had announced the Cabinet’s decision on April 23, 2009 after I had raised Indira Gandh’s 3 young children who were converted from being a hindu to Islam by her husband(then) Patamanathan matter in Parliament.

Nazri had said the Cabinet’s view was that if one spouse converts to Islam, the children will continue to follow the faith of the parents at the time of their marriage. The cabinet also decided that the civil courts were the right avenue to dissolve a marriage upon the conversion of one spouse to Islam.

So why has the Cabinet taken a new position on this question of unilateral conversion of minors?

Secondly, before a Bill is tabled in Parliament, the Cabinet must discuss and approve it.

Why then do we now have a few Ministers who have publicly rejected the Bill?

Did the Cabinet approve the Bill by consensus or by a majority vote?

Thirdly, what public consultation was made before the Cabinet approve the Bill?

When Nazri announced the Cabinet decision in 2009, questions were raised whether the decision could be enforced without legislative changes to support it.

Nazri said the Attorney-General would be tasked with reviewing and amending existing laws to that effect.

I have on numerous occasions, either inside or outside Parliament, called on the Government to introduce the necessary legal amendments and reforms. Many NGOs too have made similar calls.

Yet not only has the Cabinet failed to do the necessary for the last 4 years, it has even made the shocking move of tabling the controversial Bill ?

How is the public going to have confidence that the government will now really listen to the people ?

Let me remind the government that the Bill ought not to have been tabled in Parliament in the first place.

The Bill is certainly against the Prime Minister’s call for national reconciliation.

Let’s hope that the Cabinet will do what is right and introduce necessary law changes which will support the 2009 Cabinet decision that bans unilateral conversion of minors.

DAP National Vice Chairman & MP for Ipoh Barat
Media statement by M Kula Segaran in Ipoh on Saturday, 6th July 2013