Christian Indonesian Halimah has lived in fear of being thrown into jail in a foreign land ever since she was arrested for khalwat three years ago.
The fear of being put behind bars for an offence she has no way of understanding was reinforced after the Penang Syariah Court convicted her of being in close proximity with a person of the opposite sex who is not her spouse or relative, an offence under Islamic law and enforceable exclusively on Muslims, which further confused Halimah.
“I don’t understand what was going on when they arrested me in 2011 and even now, I don’t really understand what’s happening except that the case is still in court and I could go to jail,” she said in an interview with The Malay Mail Online today.
Illiterate and barely conversant in Bahasa Malaysia, the 42-year-old works as a reflexologist.
Halimah said she was born a Christian and has a baptism certificate to prove it. She added that she has not changed her religion at any time.
Malaysia practises a unique dual-court system with civil law that applies equally for everyone in the country, and Syariah law that is only for Muslims.
Halimah was charged with close proximity with a man who is not her spouse or relative at a reflexology centre along Jalan Seang Teik at 11.40am on December 8th, 2011.
With no one to explain the meaning of the offence or the consequences, she pleaded guilty to the charge before the Penang Syariah Court on May 15th, 2012.
“I didn’t know what’s going on when they charged me, I only know I was so frightened at that time,” she explained, when asked why she had admitted to it.
She is unable to recall much of what happened on that day except for the fact that six Islamic law enforces turned up at her work place, informing her of the offence she had committed.
She was taken to the Syariah Court in Penang and failed to understand most of the proceeding as it waswas conducted wholly in Bahasa Malaysia
“I am glad that my employer is helping me to resolve this case,” she said, her relief palpable. “I just want it to be over so that I can go back to visit my family in Bandung, Indonesia.”
Halimah’s 22-year-old daughter is getting married in May and she is hoping to go back for the wedding.
“If this case doesn’t get resolved by then, the wedding may have to be postponed,” she said.
Halimah’s employer, Datin Josephine Ong, said she was present when officials from the Penang Islamic Religious Affairs Department burst into the reflexology centre. She related that the officers had shouted at Halimah and accused her of committing an offence under Syariah law and tried to take her away.
“I told them that she’s a Christian, not a Muslim, but they would not believe me,” Ong said.
“When they took her back for questioning, they kept telling her to just admit to it and admit that she’s a Muslim and that if she admits, nothing will happen to her,” she added.
The reflexology business owner suspects that those promises made may be the reason why Halimah had pleaded guilty to the charge, believing she may be let off lightly.
Instead, the state Syariah Court convicted her of khalwat, under Section 27 (b) of the Penang Syariah Criminal Offences Enactment. She was sentenced to jail for 14 days and fined RM3,000.
Fortunately, Halimah was granted a stay of execution but had to fork out RM3,000 for bail.
Ong hired a shariah lawyer, Wan Faridulhadi Mohd Yusoff, to represent Halimah and handle the appeal, which was upheld in the Syariah High Court. The case is now pending before the Syariah Court of Appeal.
Halimah’s lawyer has had to run the paper trail to locate documents to support her claims as a Christian. With the help of the Indonesian Consulate here, he has obtained her baptism certificate. He also managed to procure a letter from the Indonesian Consulate confirming that Halimah is a Christian and a charter signed by the consulate to show her entire family to be Christians.