THE Court of Appeal has quashed the unilateral conversion of Loh Siew Hong’s three children to Islam, ruling that the conversion is null and void.
A three-judge panel chaired by Justice Hadhariah Syed Ismail unanimously ruled that the High Court judge had erred when he failed to consider two main issues raised in the judicial review by the children’s mother.
Loh had filed the judicial review to challenge the conversion of her children – twin daughters aged 11 and a nine-year-old boy at that time.
The ruling has resulted in the restoration of the children’s original Hindu faith as shown on their birth certificate.
Speaking on behalf of his fellow bench members Justices Hashim Hamzah and Azhahari Kamal Ramli, Justice Hadhariah ruled that unilateral conversion is unlawful if it does not get the consent of both parents.
Loh’s former husband Muhammad Nagahswaran Muniandy, who converted to Islam, had converted the children without her consent in 2020.
The judge said that the Kuala Lumpur High Court – which on May 11 last year dismissed Loh’s judicial review to nullify her children’s conversion – had erred because it did not consider two critical issues.
One issue was whether the unilateral conversion was lawful.
The second issue was if a Perlis state enactment – namely Section 117(b) of the state’s Administration of the Religion of Islam Enactment 2006 which permits only the permission of one parent to convert a child to Islam – was invalid for contravening the Federal Constitution.
“The failure to answer these two issues is a clear misdirection that is tantamount to an error in law. On the issue of unilateral conversion, we are bound with the decision in the Indira Gandhi case which held that the consent of both parents must be obtained before minor children can be converted to another religion,” Justice Hadhariah said on Wednesday (Jan 10).
“Therefore, we allow the appeal by the applicant (Loh) and set aside the High Court’s decision.”
On May 11, 2023 High Court judge Justice Wan Ahmad Farid Wan Salleh dismissed Loh’s judicial review application and ruled that the children were Muslims from the conversion.
In his decision, the judge said that the force of evidence in the case suggested that the children continued to profess Islam even after she gained their custody.
He also said there was no dispute that the certificates of conversion were issued for the children.
Loh and Nagahswaran entered a civil marriage in 2008, but their marriage broke down over allegations of domestic violence that saw her hospitalised. She filed for divorce in Dec 2019.
However, while she was recuperating from her injuries in a hospital, it was reported the father took the three children away and converted them on July 7, 2020.
In March 2021, Loh was granted sole custody, care, and control over the children, and legally divorced in September the same year.
In Feb 2022, Loh’s children – who were under the care of the Social Welfare Department – were released to their mother after the Kuala Lumpur High Court allowed her habeas corpus application. – Jan 10, 2024
Main pic credit: Bernama