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Malaysian Muslim's right to convert appealed

An appeal has been lodged against a landmark ruling by the Malaysian High Court for a Sarawak Christian to convert from Islam. 

The National Registration Department (NRD) filed its appeal against Rooney Rebit, 41, from Sarawak just ahead of the April 24 deadline. The reasons for the appeal need to be revealed within eight weeks.

Rebit was born into a Christian family that converted to Islam when he was eight years old. In March a High Court ruling said that he was too young to choose to convert, but when he chose to become a Christian at 24 he was mature enough to make his own decisions.

The High Court ruling requires the NRD to issue a new identity card - which, to date, it hasn't done - showing his Christian birth name only and his Muslim classification removed. If the NRD's appeal is upheld it might make it harder for Muslims to change their religion in the future. A constitutional rights lawyer commented: “Judges are abdicating their role to protect the freedom of religion in the Constitution".

Rebit's case reached the High Court when the NRD insisted that a Sharia Court needed to authorise removing the word "Islam" from his identity card. The High Court judge said Rebit’s case was not one of jurisdiction, but raised constitutional issues regarding his right to religious freedom. “He does not need a Sharia court order to release him from Islam, because freedom of religion is his constitutional right and only he can exercise that right.”

The NRD was the only one of three involved bodies to appeal against his victory: the Sarawak Islamic Religious Department and the Sarawak Islamic Council did not lodge appeals.

The majority of the population of Sarawak - one of two Malaysian states on the island of Borneo - is Christian.

Calls for Christian asylum centres in Sweden

Increasing reports about Christians harassed by hardline Muslim fellow migrants are prompting calls for non-Muslim asylum centres to be set up in Sweden.

According to the Swedish Evangelical Alliance, one Christian refugee in Kalmar in the southeast of the country was threatened with having his throat slit by a man who claimed to have fought with jihadists in Syria.

A Pakistani Christian couple moved into a church when the husband's name was sprayed on a wall near their room calling for his death, while, according to an article by Christian Today, two women were told by other asylum seekers to convert to Islam and cover their heads, their children being called "kuffar" or "infidels."

It's mostly Christians, atheists, Druze and moderate Muslims who are being discriminated against by Islamic radicals, says Nuri Kino, an Assyrian activist in Sweden.

In a letter dated March 14, the head of the Syriac Orthodox Church Patriarch Ignatuis Aphrem II urged Swedish authorities to intervene.

"Christians do not live in refugee camps in the Middle East, because, there too, they are persecuted by Muslim extremists," he said, calling for a distinct asylum accommodation for Christians and other minority asylum seekers.

"It is obvious that we are not able to protect them at the existing accommodations," Kino echoed the Patriarch’s concern. "We cannot live on with the romantic idea of a harmonious mosaic of religions and ethnicity in our accommodations for asylum seekers. That time is past."

The issue goes beyond Sweden. Earlier this year global Christian advocate Open Doors reported a spate of incidents in northern France involving Iranian Christian converts being persecuted by Iraqi Muslims.

In Germany, The Archbishop of Cologne has warned that Christian refugees were being threatened by other asylum seekers in refugee camps, reported the Catholic international weekly The Tablet in February.

Myanmar monk builds pagoda on church grounds

A Myanmar Christian leader appealed for calm Wednesday after an influential Buddhist monk built pagodas within the compound of a church in a country beset with religious tensions, reports News Republic.

Supporters of the monk Myaing Kyee Ngu erected a religious statue and planted a Buddhist flag on a church's grounds in the eastern state of Karen, and then returned on Saturday to erect a pagoda, according to local Anglican Bishop Saw Stylo. 

It is not clear what is behind the recent pagoda construction in Karen state, which has a sizeable Christian population. Christian communities in ethnic minority areas have for years complained of encroachments by zealous Buddhists, particularly through the presence of the military.

The office of local MP Saw Chit Khin said that Buddhist authorities had already written to the monk to urge him to cease building.

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