The right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief is often referred to as “religious freedom” or “freedom of religion or belief” (FoRB). FoRB is a fundamental and universal human right articulated in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which states that:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

From October 2020 through to 2021, a team from AmerBON worked with Stefanus Alliance International (SAI) on a project that aimed to strengthen access to justice for victims of FoRB violations.

The project had a specific objective — to equip and support lawyers, human rights organisations, and faith-based actors with the necessary knowledge to take on FoRB cases in court. The overall goal was to inspire more lawyers to use their expertise to promote and enhance this freedom through the legal system and to defend victims of FoRB violations.

Under the project, we published ten articles related to FoRB issues on a website administered by SAI:

The articles may be freely accessed and used by Malaysian lawyers as a guide to legal procedures, to enhance understanding of how to approach FoRB cases. The team carried out extensive research and ensured that the articles covered key questions and considerations that the court would examine in FoRB cases. The themes of the online articles were carefully curated based on emerging FoRB topics in Malaysia:

1. Article 11: Malaysia’s Freedom of Religion and its Limitations

2. The Jurisdiction of the Syariah Courts

3. Access to Justice and the Constitution’s Basic Structure

4. Religious Expression and Censorship

5. Case Study on Apostasy: Lina Joy v. Majlis Agama Islam Wilayah Persekutuan & Ors

6. Challenging Syariah Laws: The Jurisdictional Conflict

7. Case Study on the Religious Conversion of Minors: Indira Gandhi a/p Mutho v. Pengarah Jabatan Agama Islam Perak & Ors

8. Litigating Rights in the Courts: Grounds for Review, Remedies, and Procedures

9. Case Study on the Ahmadis’ Religious Status: Ketua Pegawai Penguatkuasa Agama & Ors v. Maqsood Ahmad & Ors

10. Child Marriage, Religion, and Human Rights

We also held an online training workshop on 8 May 2021, attended by lawyers, Pupils-in-Chambers, and law students. We were honoured to have Aston Philip Paiva, Shanmuga Kanesalingam, and Fahri Azzat — lawyers with considerable expertise and knowledge of FoRB cases — and Rozana Isa, Executive Director of Sisters in Islam (SIS), as our trainers. During the workshop, the trainers shared their experiences handling FoRB cases and walked the participants through the legal complexities of such cases.

The litigation scene regarding FoRB is still in its infancy in Malaysia. Perpetrators of religious violence should be held accountable, and lawyers should not be hindered when taking on cases that challenge existing barriers to the freedom to think, feel, and believe, which is the essence of being human.

The Malay translations of these articles are also available:

1. Perkara 11: Kebebasan Beragama dan Batasan-Batasannya di Malaysia

2. Bidang Kuasa Mahkamah-Mahkamah Syariah

3. Akses kepada Keadilan dan Struktur Asas Perlembagaan

4. Ekspresi Keagamaan dan Penapisan

5. Hak-Hak Litigasi di Mahkamah: Alasan-Alasan untuk Menyemak, Remedi-Remedi dan Prosedur

6. Kajian Kes Berkenaan Keluar Agama: Lina Joy lwn Majlis Agama Islam Wilayah Persekutuan & Yang Lain

7. Mencabar Undang-Undang Syariah: Konflik Bidang Kuasa

8. Kajian Kes Mengenai Penukaran Agama Kanak-Kanak: Indira Gandhi a/p Mutho lwn Pengarah Jabatan Agama Islam Perak & Yang Lain

9. Kajian Kes Mengenai Status Keagamaan Orang-orang Ahmadiyya: Ketua Pegawai Penguatkuasa Agama & Yang Lain lwn. Maqsood Ahmad & Yang Lain

10. Perkahwinan Bawah Umur, Agama dan Hak Asasi Manusia