Malaysia: Hundreds light a 'candle of hope' for Revathi

Last night, some 500 people congregated at Dataran Merdeka to hold a candlelight vigil to protest the continued detention of M Revathi at an Islamic rehabilitation centre.
Dataran Merdeka, where the proclamation of Malaysia's independence from colonial rule rang out half a century ago, once again become the stage for another cry for freedom. This time around, it concerned religion and the freedom to love.
Last night, some 500 people congregated at Dataran Merdeka to hold a candlelight vigil to protest the continued detention of M Revathi at an Islamic rehabilitation centre.

Those present carried banners which, among others, read: ‘Secular is not anti-religion’ and ‘Stop breaking up families’. About 10 uniformed policemen were present throughout the hour-long protest, which started at 8pm.

"People of different faiths - Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Taoists and others have gathered here. Over the last couple of years, we've been faced with court rulings which are most of the time one sided,” Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) deputy president A Vaithilingam told reporters. He said the vigil was being held with the hope that it will “light up the hearts of the people” and remind the authorities that there is a big minority of about 45 percent who want the government to take notice of them and ensure that justice is done.

On April 18, Revathi, who changed her name from Siti through a letter of admission in 2001, had her 100-day rehabilitation period extended for another 80 days by the Malacca Syariah Court. Her unregistered marriage with V Suresh resulted in a child in 2005 and days after the child's birth, Malacca Religious Department (Jaim) officers had claimed the child. The child is currently in the custody of Revathi’s Muslim mother. In January, the Syariah Court ordered Revathi to undergo rehabilitation at the Akidah Rehabilitation Centre in Ulu Yam, Selangor.

Malaysiakini also met with politicians and NGO leaders who were present at the candlelight vigil last night:

Lim Guan Eng, DAP secretary-general:

I think finally, the greatest right of all, the right to freely love another person ... I think that should be preserved.

The fact that we have to hold a candlelight vigil demonstrates the lack of such basic freedoms in Malaysia.

We hope that the government can understand the feelings of non-Muslims. It is demonstrated by what we feel are unreasonable actions against this family.

Zainah Anwar, Sisters In Islam executive director

For me, if Islam is used as a source of law and public policy in a country like Malaysia, everyone has a right to be engaged in a public discourse and debate because it is public law.

You cannot hide behind the divinity of the religion or sacredness of the text to stop public discussion because it is used as a source of public law.

Just as we citizens have the right to talk about economic and political policies that affect us, why is it when it comes to Islam, Islamic laws, Islamic policies, suddenly we don't have the right to speak?

We're all citizens and we're all affected by the use of Islam as a source of law and public policies.

Meera Samanther, Women's Aid Organisation president

The reason why civil society organisations are here is to show support and solidarity with Suresh and his family in particular, this is for Revathi.

We hope the state would recognise the essence of Article 11 that is to protect the freedom to be able to practice and profess a faith.

By: Ooi Kelly and Wong Bor Yang

20 June 2007