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Perlis’ Islamic authorities have legal duty to Loh’s Muslim children, says lawyer

The lawyer for single mother Loh Siew Hong says her present custody order should be maintained as her appeal is coming up and also because they are staying in Selangor.

KUALA LUMPUR: The Perlis Islamic Religious and Malay Council (MAIPs) has a statutory duty towards the three Muslim children of non-Muslim mother Loh Siew Hong, even though they are under her custody, a lawyer told the High Court today.

Haniff Khatri Abdulla said MAIPs has to perform that duty “every second”, as required under the State Islamic Administration Enactment, to ensure the children of Loh and Nagahswaran Muniandy adhere to the Islamic faith and teachings.

Haniff, who was appearing for MAIPs, was making his submission for the court to vary a custody order given to Loh on March 31, 2020.

The Court of Appeal had, on Feb 7 this year, set aside a High Court ruling made last year and allowed MAIPs to intervene in Loh’s divorce proceedings, paving the way for the religious authorities to then apply to vary the custodial order over the three children.

MAIPS is asking for access to the children once a fortnight for them to be provided religious education, and the 11-year-old son of the couple to be taken to a nearby mosque to perform Friday prayers.

“We want the court to allow MAIPs to provide financial assistance to the children and also pay an allowance to Loh as caretaker,” Haniff said.

Justice Hayatul Akmal Abdul Aziz asked Haniff why MAIPs is coming in as a third party on custody and maintenance matters, which are between Loh and her former husband.

“We have been made a party following the Court of Appeal ruling to look into the children’s religious welfare. MAIPS merely wants access,” Haniff replied, adding that the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act allows for intervention by a third party.

He said this is also allowed in cases with exceptional circumstances where the children are Muslims and the mother is not.

Lawyer Gunamalar Joorindanjn, appearing for Loh, said the present custody order should be maintained as Loh’s appeal on the unilateral conversion of the children will be heard by the Court of Appeal on Oct 19.

On May 11, Justice Wan Ahmad Farid Wan Salleh dismissed a bid by Loh to quash the conversion of her children to Islam. The judge said the conversion certificates issued were conclusive proof of the change in their religious faith.

Gunamalar said it is a fact the children were born Hindus and it will prejudice them and Loh if there is another “change in the religious environment”.

She said the High Court had erred in law by following the 2018 Federal Court precedent in the Indira Gandhi case on unilateral conversion, when the consent of both parents must be obtained.

Gunamalar said MAIPs’ authority to extend assistance to Muslims is confined to Perlis, and only religious authorities in Selangor can assist Loh and her children as they currently reside in that state.

“MAIPs has not crossed the threshold to allow this civil court to vary and allow the orders sought. The court must ensure that the welfare of the children is paramount,” she said.

Lawyer Malcolm Fernandez, appearing for Nagahswaran, claimed that there were reports on social media that the children were going to a temple in Batu Caves.

“This is a blatant disregard of a High Court ruling that has declared the children are still Muslims,” he said.

He alleged that the children’s Islamic faith and discipline deteriorated after Loh won a habeas corpus application to be reunited with her twin daughters and son.

Fernandez said the father had no access to the children after being barred from going near them, as Nagahswaran faces a charge in the Sungai Petani sessions court with causing grievous hurt to Loh four years ago.

“How long does he have to wait, when the criminal trial will take a year or two to be completed?” he asked.

He said Nagahswaran supported MAIPs’ application because the children have also refused to meet him ever since he was released from prison.

Hayatul has instructed Loh to produce the children in court this afternoon for her to interview them.

On July 6, 2020, the three children were taken by Nagahswaran to Perlis, where they were converted to Islam without her consent.

On Feb 21 last year, the three siblings, who were placed under the care and control of preacher Nazirah Nanthakumari Abdullah, were released to Loh after the High Court allowed her habeas corpus application.