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137 Orang Asli file suit to nullify Muslim status
Published on: Monday, March 27, 2023
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137 Orang Asli file suit to nullify Muslim status
The 137 plaintiffs allege they were subjected to threats and forced to convert in 1993.
Kuala Lumpur: A group of 137 Orang Asli from the Bateq Tanum tribe in Kuala Lipis, Pahang, have filed a lawsuit in the High Court here seeking to revoke their status as Muslims.

The group claimed they were “wrongfully and illegally” converted to Islam some time in 1993.

The first to 56th plaintiffs alleged that a representative from the Orang Asli development department (Jakoa) met them one day and asked to convert to Islam.

However, the villagers claimed they refused to do so.

The 57th to 137th plaintiffs are descendants of the first 56 plaintiffs.

They claimed that an individual, known as Bakar Unus, went to their village and issued threats if they refused to convert.

Bakar allegedly told them their crops would be destroyed and they would not be allowed to live in the village any longer.

The villagers also claimed that they were forced to recite the “kalimah shahadah” (the Islamic affirmation of faith), which they did not understand.

They said Bakar and several Jakoa officers took down their names after the recitation and left.

The villagers said that several years after the “conversion”, Bakar and other Jakoa officers came to their village again, took their photographs and helped them fill up application forms for identity cards.

“The first to 56th plaintiffs were given Muslim names that they did not agree with. As the villagers could not read, they did not understand what was stated on the identity cards,” they said in their statement of claim.

The 137 villagers insisted that they had not practised Islam at any point of time and that they had continued to practise animism.

Some time in 2004, one of the villagers, Harun Abdullah, approached the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) for assistance over their religious status.

Suhakam eventually prepared a report in 2013, titled “Report of the national inquiry into the land rights of indigenous peoples”, but did not mention the 1993 “conversion”.

They said Harun then met lawyer and activist Siti Kasim for legal assistance in 2016.

They claimed that Jakoa and the Pahang government had breached their fiduciary duties by allowing the “conversion” to take place.

“The defendants wrongfully exploited their influence over the aboriginal peoples in the village and, in breach of their duties to them, wrongfully and illegally used duress to convert them to Islam,” they said.

As a result, the villagers said they had lost their identities as Bateq Tanum members, as they were forced to adopt and practise a religion they never consented to.

Besides seeking an order to quash their religious status, the villagers want damages to be awarded for breach of their constitutional rights.

Apart from Bakar and Jakoa, the suit named the state and federal governments and Pahang Islamic Religious and Malay Customs Council as defendants.

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