From the Left: Moderator Gregory Treat, Panelists Gayle Jokinin, UN Special Rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed, Eugene Yapp
On March 6, 2018, Jubilee Campaign, along with our partners at CSW, ADF, the WEA, and ERLC, sponsored a side event at the UN in Geneva highlighting the growing restrictions on Christians and other religious minorities in Malaysia.
Malaysia is often admired as a moderate Muslim-majority country that upholds democratic values and human rights. Unfortunately, Christians face serious and growing restrictions to their religious freedom. These include, in no particular order, restrictions on registering churches, government restrictions on what words Christians can use for God, prohibitions against witnessing to Muslims, or publicly disputing the core claims of Islam, and a number of laws aimed at preventing conversions from Islam to Christianity, and punishing those who dare to leave the Muslim religion for faith in Jesus Christ.
The event highlighted one of the most insidious legal structures currently at work in Malaysia, the registration of religion on Malaysian ID cards. All Malaysian ID cards carry an RFID chip which contains among other things, the person’s religion as registered with the government. Further, Muslims actually have their faith printed on their ID. This system allows any official to know, with merely a glance at your ID card, whether you belong to the dominant Muslim class.
However, there is a long history in Malaysia of wrongly registering people as Muslims. In one particularly egregious example related by Gayle Jokinin, indigenous peoples in Eastern Malaysia, also known as North Borneo, were asked to sign a number of papers in order to qualify for aid, some of which included a written declaration that they were converting to Islam. As most of these indigenous peoples are illiterate, they did not even know what they were signing. But today as their children enter society and get ID cards, those cards list them as Muslim, and they come under heavy pressure to conform to their government assignment Muslim identity. They must put their children into Islamic religious instruction, cannot marry non-Muslims, and are subject to the jurisdiction of the Sharia courts. This same is true of anyone whose parents or grandparents ever formally converted, or married a Muslim.
As Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief noted: “You cannot force anyone to declare their religion, and when that is done, especially on ID cards, they may be used as a way to discriminate on access to services, sometimes to very basic services. So in all contexts where religion appears on an ID card it becomes an instrument for discrimination or privileged treatment on account of religion.
Despite these challenges, we were encouraged that members of the Malaysian Mission to the UN in Geneva, attended the event, and we look forward to positive engagement with them in the future.
- That the Malaysian Government removes religion from its ID cards, and allows people to freely convert to the religion of their choice.
- that the network of laws effectively serving as blasphemy and apostasy codes in Malaysia will be repealed.
- That the Christians in Malaysia would grow in unity and be able to speak with one voice.
Finally, thank you so much for your support. It is your support which allows us to put on events like this on behalf of our Christian brothers and sisters in the future.