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After interviewing Hindu mum Loh Siew Hong’s children, High Court sets October 11 to decide if Perlis Islamic Council can have access

Publish date: Wed, 27 Sep 2023, 07:04 PM

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 27 — The High Court today scheduled October 11 to deliver its decision on whether the Perlis Islamic Religious and Malay Customs Council (MAIPs) can have access to Hindu mother Loh Siew Hong’s three children — who were said to be unilaterally converted to Islam by their father — to assist them including by giving Islamic education.

High Court judge Hayatul Akmal Abdul Aziz fixed the decision date, after having this afternoon interviewed the three children in chambers and hearing further arguments by lawyers for both MAIPs and Loh.

This afternoon, the judge said she was together with the court interpreter when she called in the three children individually to ask them about their opinions on MAIPs’ application to assist them.

The judge spent about half an hour interviewing one of the daughters, and about 15 minutes each with the two other children. The two daughters will turn 15 later this year, while the son is 12.

Earlier this morning, Hayatul Akmal said she would like to interview the three children, since MAIPs’ application was about them. She had also said she has been a family court judge previously for many years and that it was her general practice to interview children in family cases.

The lawyers for MAIPs, Loh as well as Loh’s ex-husband this morning did not object to the interview being done, with MAIPs’ lawyer Mohamed Haniff Khatri Abdulla saying there was no issue for the interview to be held as it would be fair for the judge to get a full picture.

After interviewing the three children this afternoon, the judge then gave the lawyers the chance to add on further arguments.

Aidil Khalid, who was representing MAIPs, then highlighted that another High Court judge had previously ordered that the three children’s details and photos not be published by the media.

Among other things, Aidil argued that the three children’s religious status currently remains as Muslims since the High Court had dismissed Loh’s challenge against the validity of their conversion, and that it is in the children’s interests for them to be given religious guidance.

Loh’s lawyer J. Gunamalar however argued that Loh’s three children were converted to Islam unilaterally, and said the current legal position is the Federal Court decision in Ipoh mother M. Indira Gandhi’s case where it was ruled that unilateral conversions are illegal and the religion of a child under the age of 18 must be decided by both parents.

Gunamalar urged the court to prioritise the children’s welfare and wellbeing, and argued against MAIPs being granted access to the three children.

Gunamalar highlighted the Court of Appeal’s scheduled October 19 hearing of Loh’s appeal to challenge the three children’s unilateral conversion to Islam.

The ex-husband’s lawyer Vhimall Murugesan provided clarifications to the High Court when asked about certain factual matters.

After having heard these additional submissions by the lawyers on top of the arguments presented this morning, the judge then fixed the decision date.

Loh was also represented by lawyer Thian Yee Chin.

MAIPs was also represented today by lawyers Datuk Zainul Rijal Abu Bakar, Danial Farhan Zainul Rijal, and Ali Huzaifah Sharif Ahmed.

Vhimall and Malcolm Fernandez today held a watching brief for the ex-husband Muhammad Nagahswaran Muniandy.

Today, the High Court heard MAIPs’ application to vary or make changes to a custody order — which granted Loh full custody over the three children in her divorce with the Hindu-turned-Muslim ex-husband — in order to secure access to the children for purposes such as giving them Islamic lessons and bring them to the mosques for Islamic celebrations.

Throughout the entire hearing, MAIPs’ position was that the children’s official religious status remains as Muslim, while Loh’s position was that the children are not Muslims due to the contention that their unilateral conversion to Islam is invalid.

On February 17, MAIPs applied to vary the custody order, by asking to add on court orders, including for MAIPs to be granted supervised access once every two weeks to provide guidance and basic Islamic education to the three children.

In the same application, MAIPs also wants to be given access to bring the son for Friday prayers every week to any mosque located not more than 10km from the house of Loh and her three children.

In the application, MAIPs also wants to be given access to bring the three children to celebrate major Islamic occasions — Aidil Fitri and Aidil Adha — at any mosque, surau or government venue not more than 10km from their house.

Also in the same application to vary the custody order, MAIPs wants to be given access to provide financial aid to the three children who are in the category of asnaf or those eligible to receive aid from Islamic alms; provide education aid such as books, pens, computer to the three children; provide financial aid to the mother who is now the sole guardian as wages or for livelihood over her efforts and responsibility to raise and care for the three children; and to help Loh in buying food and drinks that is good and halal (or permissible to consume in Islam) for the three children.

MAIPs also wants to be given access once every three months to supervise and provide guidance to Loh to raise her three children in a conducive environment according to Islam, including but not limited to eating halal food, and access to go into their house for not more than an hour for each session.

Previously on March 17, 2022, High Court judge Evrol Mariette Peters issued a court order for the three children’s names and photographs to not be published by news outlets and on social media.

What happened before all the court cases

The three children were born to Loh and her ex-husband Nagahswaran Muniandy in a civil marriage, or when the couple were both non-Muslims.

The ex-husband had in 2019 taken the three children away while Loh was hospitalised with injuries which she claimed he had inflicted.

The ex-husband on July 7, 2020 converted to Islam, and brought the three children — when they were aged between nine and 11 — to also be converted to Islam without Loh’s consent.

In 2021, the couple’s divorce was finalised and the High Court granted Loh full and sole custody of the three children.

But Loh was only reunited with her three children when the High Court on February 21, 2022 ordered the trio’s immediate release from alleged unlawful detention.

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