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'They asked me to be a Muslim, gave me beef'

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'They asked me to be a Muslim, gave me beef'


Friday, July 06, 2007

Shah Alam, Malaysia, July 6: A Malaysian woman on Friday accused Islamic religious police of intimidation and mental torture during her six-month detention for renouncing Islam in favour of the Hindu religion.

"It was a prison. They placed me in a solitary confinement," Massosai Revathi, an ethnic Indian, said a day after she was freed from a state-run Islamic counselling centre.

"Although I served 180 days, I still cannot convert out of Islam," said Revathi, 29. "I wasted my time."

Her case highlighted another strain in the fabric of race and religious relations in multi-ethnic Malaysia. Last month, dozens of people campaigning for freedom of religion held a candlelight vigil to protest against her detention.

In May, the country's best-known Christian convert, Lina Joy, lost a battle in Malaysia's highest court to have the word 'Islam' removed from her identity card. In delivering judgment in that case, the Federal Court's chief justice said the issue of apostasy was related to Islamic law, and civil courts could not intervene.

In practice, sharia courts do not allow Muslims to formally renounce Islam, preferring to send apostates to counselling and, ultimately, fining or jailing them if they refuse to desist.

Such people often end up in legal limbo, unable to register their new religious affiliations or legally marry non-Muslims. Many keep silent about their choice or emigrate.

Revathi was born to an Indian Hindu family, which converted to Islam before she was born. Although given the Muslim name of Siti Fatimah Karim, she said she was raised as a Hindu by her grandmother.

She married a Hindu in 2004 according to Hindu rites and the couple have an 18-month-old daughter.

Revathi was freed on Thursday, a day before the hearing of her husband's application for her release was due to begin. A civil court judge on Friday threw out the application since she had been released.

Outside the court in the city of Shah Alam, 40 km southwest of the Malaysian capital, Revathi said she suffered mental torture while in detention.

"They asked me to be a Muslim and they threatened to send my daughter to a welfare home if I defied them," she said. "They also served me beef, knowing I don't take beef as a Hindu."

A lawyer for the Malacca Islamic Religion Council, which acted against Revathi, denied her charges. "She can claim anything," the lawyer, Tuah Atan, said. "She has been put under the custody of her parents until she is rehabilitated."

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